Fourth Wall's production is homelier than Stained Glass Ugly.

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Stained Glass Ugly Tremont Pilgrim Congregational Church, 2592 West 14th Street Through June 10, produced by Fourth Wall Productions, 330-283-2442
If you ask most people whether a guy's physical ugliness could overwhelm his inner beauty, not to mention the love that his fiancée has for him, there would be one obvious question: Just how ugly is he? Because if he's just kind of quirky looking and not, say, pus-oozing-alien ugly, it makes a big difference.

This question is the central unsolvable problem in Stained Glass Ugly, now being presented by Fourth Wall Productions. As written by Qui Nguyen, the play poses the above query, but then never shows the man's face -- evidently so hideous it makes a lap dancer at a bachelor party stop in mid-grind and run away screaming.

Though only running 90 minutes, this bare-bones two-person effort seems to drag on interminably, mostly due to a playwright who is intent on proving to the audience how bright he is. Instead of telling a story by creating involving characters who actually experience things before your eyes, Nguyen opts for a self-conscious play structure using setups such as "Perspective Shift," "Answer," "Rationalizing," and the deadly "Insight."

While the audience is being led by the nose to these nuggets of supposed brilliance, the playwright traces the relationship of the young dude (subtly named Adam Mann, get it?) and girlfriend Madison before and after his disfiguring accident -- an apparent malfunction of an electric razor. No kidding. Hey, if an electric razor can be that destructive, we should be supplying field-hardened Norelcos to our soldiers in Iraq. And if he is kidding, then why isn't it funny?

Of course, this whole contrived premise ignores a little thing called plastic surgery, which Adam evidently could easily afford, because the post-accident settlement made him rich. The other structural flaw is that, due to constant flashbacks, it's impossible for the male actor to wear makeup that would convey the extent of his injury.

But there's more. Each flashback is done whimsically, with "his version" of, say, their first meeting, followed by "her version," and then by the real event. These fantasy recreations are done as mini-genre parodies and are supposed to be amusing, but largely fall flat.

Played with no set and no effects save a couple background songs, the seriously compromised piece also suffers from director Rebecca Cole's failure to help her players negotiate it. And, stunningly, Cole ignores the the problematic lack of contrast, both in pronunciation and affect, of Adam's pre- and post-trauma speech patterns.

This tepid exercise could be saved to some degree by stellar actors capable of switching from serious drama to lighthearted comedy in a flash. Unfortunately, Dash Combs and Carli Taylor Miluk labor diligently, but fall short of being the miracle workers this piece requires. Acting sequential emotions instead of fashioning believable characters, they seem stuck in a tedious acting-class drill. And their aggressively off-key duet may go down as the most agonizing two minutes on stage this year.

Despite the deficiencies of this production, Fourth Wall should be commended for attempting new fare. But it would be wise to find better material that can be reasonably executed by the talent at hand.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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