“The Ugly One” play criticizes plastic surgery
By Kim Susan Se-jeong
“The Ugly One” starts with sound. A metal table is the only stage setting, aside from small props like teacups, and there are only four actors. But the “ring ring” of the telephone, the “tick-tock” of the clock and the “ding dong” of the subway train as it arrives takes the audience into the life of a busy office worker.
Marius von Mayenburg’s play revolves around Lette’s life. Lette’s boss does not let the engineer present his invention at a Swiss convention because of his ugly face. And so Lette undergoes plastic surgery for a new face and a new life.
The story of a person whose life does a complete 180 due to a cosmetic surgery is not new. Korea has already seen similar stories, such as in “200 Pound Beauty.” But the German author’s play is not just a criticism of an appearance-oriented society.
In “The Ugly One,” cosmetic surgery shows that success in the modern capitalistic and materialistic society is directly connected to de-individuation -- in short, a lack of uniqueness.
O Dong-sik plays the protagonist, Lette. The other actors, Lee Gi-bong, Lee Dong-geun and Lee Seul-bi, play multiple roles. These actors switch back and forth between roles without leaving the stage to change their costumes or makeup. In stage director Yun Gwang-jin’s play, different lighting and positions are all that indicates a change of character.
In addition, O looks the same before and after Lette gets plastic surgery. Other characters receive surgery to look like Lette, but the actors who play them all look different.
This is a symbolic representation of reality where the line between a person’s true qualities and external appearance, and the original and the reproduction are blurred.
“The Ugly One,” which plays in Seoul Arts Center’s Jayu Theatre, combines quick development and comedic aspects with a deep message, delivered by Lette’s monologue as he decides to commit suicide.
The writer is a Korea Times intern.