Playwrights Horizons Stages Tori Sampson's IF PRETTY HURTS...
Playwrights Horizons presents the world premiere of If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, written by Tori Sampson, directed by Leah C. Gardiner, and choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly, February 15-March 31, 2019 in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons (416 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036). 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, Ian Duff (Off-Broadway: Dutch Masters; TV: Homeland ) as Kasim, N k Uche Kadri (Off-Broadway: School Girls , The Death of the Last BlackMan ) as Akim, Mirirai Sithole (Off-Broadway: School Girls..., The Homecoming Queen. TV: Black Mirror, Russian Doll ) as Adama, and Phumzile Sitole (TV: Orange Is the New Black, Elementary, The Good Fight ) as Kaya. The creative team includes Louisa Thompson (Scenic Designer), Dede M. Ayite (Costume Designer), Matt Frey (Lighting Designer), and Ian Scot (Original Music and Sound 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.
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.
Single tickets go on sale January 23 at 12 noon.
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 phnyc.org.
About Tori Sampson (Playwright)
Tori Sampson (Playwright). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: This Land Was Made (Vineyard Theatre Lab, 2018); Cadillac Crew (Yale Repertory Theater, 2019). Plays developed at: Great Plains Theatre Conference, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Victory Garden's IGNITION Festival, Playwrights Foundation, Ubuntu Festival. Tori is a 2017 18 Playwright's Center Jerome Fellow and a 2018-19 McKnight Fellow. Awards: Relentless Award (2016, Honorable Mention); Paula Vogel Award (2016); Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award (Second Place); Alliance Theater's Kendeda Prize (2017, Finalist); Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (2018, Finalist); Paul Green Award (2018). Current commissions: Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, Atlantic Theater Company. MFA Yale School of Drama.
About Leah C. Gardiner (Director)
Leah C. Gardiner (Director). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Born Bad (Obie winner), Generations (Soho Rep.); The Ruins of Civilization (Manhattan Theatre Club); Wit (Union Square Theater); The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Atlantic Theater Company); Pitbulls (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater); Bulrusher (Urban Stages). Regional: Sheepdog, Blue Door (South Coast Repertory); Bread (WaterTower Theatre); Notes From the Field (Baltimore Center Stage/Berkeley Rep); Fences (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (Alliance Theatre); Sucker Punch (Studio Theatre, D.C.); Antony and Cleopatra, Othello (Houston Shakespeare Festival); Angels in America (Connecticut Repertory Theatre). www.LeahCGardiner.com
About Raja Feather Kelly (Choreographer)
Raja Feather Kelly (Choreographer). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Funnyhouse of a Negro, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, Everybody (Signature Theatre); Fairview, The Chronicles of Cardigan and Khente (Soho Rep.); Lempicka (Williamstown Theatre Festival); The House That Will Not Stand, Hurricane Diane (New York Theatre Workshop); Fireflies (Atlantic Theatre Company); The Good Swimmer (BAM). Awards: Breakout Award from SDCF, Dance Magazine's Harkness Promise Award (2018), Solange MacArthur Award for New Choreography (2016), Princess Grace Award (2017, 2018). Raja is the artistic director of New Brooklyn Theatre, and founder of the feath3r theory, which merged in 2018.
About the Cast
Rotimi Agbabiaka (Chorus). Playwrights debut. Regional: Father Comes Home From the Wars (Yale Rep, American Conservatory Theatre); Sojourners,runboyrun (Magic Theatre); Black Rider (Shotgun Players); Bootycandy (Brava Theater); A Raisin In The Sun (California Shakespeare Theatre); Choir Boy (Marin Theatre Company); multiple appearances with Tony Award-winning San Francisco Mime Troupe, where he is a collective member. Solo plays: Homeless, Type/Caste. Co-writing: Seeing Red.Director: VS (TheatreFIRST). MFA in Acting from Northern Illinois University. www.rotimionline.com
Maechi Aharanwa (Ma). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: The Winter's Tale, An Octoroon (TFANA); The Old Settler (BHT); Sweet, Facing Our Truth - Night Vision, No More Monsters Here (NBT); Mother Courage, Macbeth, The Blacks, Trojan Women (CTH). Regional: The Call, Seven Guitars, Antigone, Miss Julie. Film: Boy In A Backpack, Police State. Television: Elementary (CBS), Show Me a Hero (HBO), 30 Rock (NBC), Person Of Interest (CBS), Mercy (NBC). Princess Grace Award Recipient. Training: Juilliard. www.maechi.net
Jason Bowen (Dad). Playwrights debut. Broadway: The Play That Goes Wrong. Off-Broadway: Alternating Currents (Working Theater); My Ma ana Comes (Playwrights Realm). Regional: Native Son (Yale Rep.); Jazz (Baltimore Center Stage); As You Like It, Black Odyssey (Denver Center Theatre Co.); Ruined (La Jolla Playhouse, Huntington Theatre, Berkeley Rep.); A Raisin In The Sun, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (Huntington Theatre Co.). TV: Blue Bloods, "Madam Secretary," "Elementary," "Braindead, Law & Order: SVU. Film: The Upside.
Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Massassi). Playwrights debut. Anoinette graduated in 2018 class from The Yale School of Drama, where she played in shows such as The Three Sisters, Seven Guitars, and Our Lady of 121. Born and raised in Texas, she attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas where she played in Colored Museum, The Women, and more. She is currently working on the TV Series Godfather of Harlem, which will premiere in 2019 on Epix.
Ian Duff (Kasim). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Dutch Masters (The Wild Project, Clive Barnes Award finalist). Regional: I and You (Kitchen Theatre Company). Film: Up North (Best Actor in a Drama at SeriesFest, 2017). TV: Homeland (Showtime). Graduate of The Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. Ian would like to thank his manager Vincent, of VGP Artist Management, his agents Gabrielle Kachman & Liana Diamond at The Gersh Agency, and his mentor, Todd Susman.
N k Uche Kadri (Akim).Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play (MCC, Drama Desk Award); The Death of the Last Black Man (Signature Theater); Iphigenia in Aulis (Classic Stage Company). TV One Dollar, Seven Seconds, Divorce. Training: The University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater B.F.A. This production is dedicated to my family who supports me ceaselessly and the culture of the Yoruba and Igbo people of Nigeria whose blood runs through my veins. www.nikeuchekadri.com.
Mirirai Sithole (Adama). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play (MCC), The Homecoming Queen (Atlantic), The Death of the Last Black Man...(Signature); Mother Courage and Her Children (CSC); Fronti res Sans Fronti res (Bushwick Starr); Autumn's Harvest (Lincoln Center). Regional:School Girls , Skeleton Crew, Our Town, Christmas Carol. TV: Bull," "The Affair, "Master of None, Broad City, upcoming Russian Doll (Netflix). Awards: Lortel, Drama Desk Ensemble, Rosemarie Tichler. BFA Adelphi University. miriraisithole.com
Phumzile Sitole (Kaya). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Comedy of Errors, Othello (Classic Stage Company), YellowCard RedCard (New Ohio Theatre). Regional: Macbeth (Northern Stage); Little Foot (Market Theatre JHB). Tour: Antigone in The World. Television: "The Good Fight" (CBS All Access), "Orange Is The New Black" (Netflix), "Elementary" (CBS). Film: LostFound (Sundance). MFA Acting Columbia University. Sitole is a South African actor and voice over artist.