A pretty woman wakes up with a start in her bedroom as if waking from a disturbing dream. She looks around, realizes she is in her own home and crawls out of bed to begin her day. She goes to the bathroom, brushes her teeth, gets dressed in fits and starts and ties her hair up with a colorful scarf, goes to her make-up table, which faces directly at the audience, and begins the work of applying her face (primer, concealer, blush, foundation, liner, lashes, shadow). She then finishes getting dressed, going through several choices of completing the correct outfit of who she wants to show to the world for the day, tying it all together with the correct shoes, grabs her purse making sure she has her maintenance tools in tow, checks her walk, checks her stance, gives herself an “I am” pep talk, smiles and saunters out into the world.
This takes about ten minutes plus of stage time as the audience sits quietly, entranced, riveted, as she goes through her morning routine. This can only happen between an actor and their audience because it was earned. And earned it was.
Kudos to director Leah C. Gardiner who created the space and gave the strength to this epic story for the ending of this play to exist. In this emotionally vibrant and engrossing tale of the power beauty has on society, written by Tori Sampson, her direction brings a vitality to the tale that adds vibrancy and poetry to the actors motions as well as highlighting the story of the play in a poetic but fast paced and direct way. She utilizes the backdrop of a cold set of plastic and metal bringing out the strong colors of the writing to make a good story great.
If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, now playing at Playwrights Horizons, mashes up a Nigerian folktale, The Beautiful Girl and Her Seven Jealous Friends, a little bit of Cinderella, Bertolt Brecht and Greek drama to address the power, jealousies, and social constructs of female beauty.
Based in a land called Affreakah-Amirrorkah (a great play on the words, freaky and mirror, and Africa-America), three young teenage friends (Phumzile Sitole), Massassi (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), and Adama (Mirirai Sithole) deal with always being in the dark shadow of their frenemy, Akim (Níkẹ Uche Kadri), known by everyone as the most unattainably beautiful of all (“You make our lives miserable, Akim, and it’s not fair to have to be placed next to perfection every day.”). The three friends take her to a party, but never bring her home.
“Beauty is neither your accomplishment nor your failure. Find something else to be proud of, Muhfuckas!”
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
"“Perfection is the disease of a nation” runs one of the lyrics. Grafting that theme onto a West African folk tale, Ms. Sampson makes a contemporary fable about the black female body and its discontents. She also makes, in the Playwrights Horizons production that opened on Sunday under the exuberant direction of Leah C. Gardiner, an auspicious professional playwriting debut."
Jesse Green for New York Times
"Tori Sampson takes a West African fable and turns it into an all-American cartoon geared for the afterschool-special crowd. Too bad that few adolescents will be attending a play titled If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhf–a, which opened Sunday at Playwrights Horizons. Urban Dictionary and Wiktionary give no synonyms for “muhf–a,” except the word’s unprintable definition. For clarity’s sake, let’s substitute “real bummer” or “bringdown,” which gives a much better idea of Sampson’s gentle cautionary tale. Those theatergoers expecting something edgy or provocative from “Muhf–a” will be disappointed."
Robert Hofler for The Wrap