Carla R. Stewart Joins Tori Sampson's IF PRETTY HURTS...

Article Pixel

Playwrights Horizons (Artistic Director Tim Sanford, Managing Director Leslie Marcus) has announced that Carla R. Stewart (Broadway, National Tour, and Regional: The Color Purple) will play The Voice of the River in the world premiere production of Tori Sampson's If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, directed by Obie winner Leah C. Gardiner (Born Bad) and choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly. Performances begin Friday, February 15, and continue through March 31 in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons (416 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036). The production opens officially on the evening of Sunday, March 10.

In If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, in the village of Affreakah-Amirrorkah, no one questions that Akim is the one true, perfect beauty not even her jealous classmates. But they'll be damned before they let her be the leading lady in this story. A decidedly contemporary riff on a Nigerian fable, Tori Sampson's explosive epic is brimming with live music and dance, as these frenemies jockey for their rank in a culture built on ideals forever out of reach.

The cast features Rotimi Agbabiaka (Regional: Bootycandy; Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2, and 3)as Chorus, Maechi Aharanwa (Off-Broadway: The Winter's Tale, An Octoroon. TV: Show Me a Hero )as Ma, Jason Bowen (Broadway: The Play That Goes Wrong. Off-Broadway: My Ma ana Comes. TV: Blue Bloods ) as Dad, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Regional: Seven Guitars, The Model American) as Massassi, Leland Fowler (Off-Broadway: Henry V, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Public; Measure for Measure, TFANA) as Kasim, N k Uche Kadri (Off-Broadway: School Girls , The Death of the Last Black Man ) as Akim, Mirirai Sithole (Off-Broadway: School Girls..., The Homecoming Queen. TV: Black Mirror, Russian Doll ) as Adama, Phumzile Sitole (TV: Orange Is the New Black, Elementary, The Good Fight ) as Kaya, and Carla R. Stewart (Broadway, National Tour, and Regional: The Color Purple) as The Voice of the River. The creative team includes Louisa Thompson (Scenic Designer), Dede Ayite (Costume Designer), Matt Frey (Lighting Designer), and Ian Scot (Original Music and Sound Designer), Cookie Jordan (Hair and Wig Designer), Alyssa K. Howard (Production Stage Manager), and Noah Silva (Assistant Stage Manager).

Tori Sampson (This Land Was Made, Cadillac Crew), the Kennedy Center's 2017 Paula Vogel Playwright who makes her New York City professional debut at Playwrights Horizons, began writing If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka during her time in Yale School of Drama's playwriting MFA program. There, one survey class on the entirety of theater history left her frustrated over a remarkable and all too common omission African storytelling as an ancient and sustained theatrical form. Simultaneously, she found an affinity for Brecht's sociologically probing storytelling, and his ability, as she describes, to draw from the past to speak to the immediate, in such a beautiful way that people continue to use his work to speak to these times.

As America's Eurocentric beauty standards continued to spill from the media and public figures in the form of racist comments about powerful, visible Black women, Sampson was struck by a way to bridge her interest in re-centering African storytelling in theater while applying a Brechtian analysis to contemporary American society. She began to interview women on beauty standards, and used elements of these encounters to flesh out four central young women characters in a play expanding on a folktale her uncle had related to her and deconstructing the notions of singular, ideal beauty within it.

Says Sampson, I wanted to use a folktale in a contemporary way to interrogate why, for instance, Viola Davis isn't 'classically beautiful' and why the country had such a hard time aesthetically with Michelle Obama. The first time I saw her I was awestruck; this was a beautiful black woman whose hair is like mine; her skin is like mine; and to see the attributes of her that I really admired, to see the media tear them down, really troubles me. I wanted to examine the impact of colonization on Black beauty, and to ask what is Black beauty, in a way that speaks specifically to Black women.

With If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, Sampson emerges as an endlessly talented world-builder. She collages influences and cultures elements of contemporary American music, ancient African music; post-colonial religion and pre-colonial spirituality; African and American princess archetypes; American vernacular and Nigerian dialect into a cohesive vision teeming with imagination.

Gardiner says, Elements of the design and storytelling will bleed out into the audience, and the experience as a whole will ask you to explore what 'If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka' means. If we are successful you will leave excited by what this play encourages you to think about, and the ways you are both a spectator and a participant in the pretty and the ugly.

Performance Schedule and Ticketing

Performances of If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka take place February 15-March 31: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2:30pm, and Sundays at 2:30pm and 7:30pm.

Critics are welcome to the following press performances:

Wednesday, March 6, at 7pm
Thursday, March 7, at 8pm
Friday, March 8, at 8pm
Saturday, March 9, at 230pm
Saturday, March 9, at 8pm

The production opens officially on the evening of Sunday, March 10.

Flex Passes (customizable bundle, $220+) and Memberships ($45 to join, $25 preview tickets) are now on sale. Package holders receive priority booking and seating, ticket exchange privileges, parking and dining discounts, and exclusive mailings of Playwrights Horizons Bulletins. Patron packages start at $1,750. Packages are available at

Related Articles View More Off-Off-Broadway Stories   Shows

More Hot Stories For You