A review by Alyssa Haddad
We’ve all been told from the time that we were children that beauty is skin deep, but how many of us actually live our lives with this mindset? At the Underground Theatre on East 99th Street, the Identity Theater Company is making it their mission to ensure that their audience does with their new play, Sleeping Ugly. A twist on the classic tale Sleeping Beauty, Sleeping Ugly begins when Sleeping Beauty awakes to discover that suddenly warts and scars are considered beautiful. She’s ridiculed for her appearance and leaves town, where she runs into the Ugly Duckling, who is also the subject of bullying for being different from the other ducks. While Sleeping Beauty – newly dubbed Sleeping Ugly – and the Ugly duckling become fast friends, Maleficent’s obsession with becoming the fairest of them all drives her to change her appearance to look more like Sleeping Ugly, and strikes up a deal with her and the Ugly Duckling to steal her warts and make the Duckling beautiful. Much to their surprise, changing their appearance didn’t help them get accepted by their peers, teaching Maleficent, the Ugly Duckling, and Sleeping Ugly that your inner self is the true marker of beauty.
The play, written and directed by the wonderful Nicholas Linnehan, is a fun look at body image that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Linnehan’s piece is so uplifting and focused that the audience will walk out of the theatre inspired by the newfound confidence that qualities such as friendship, loyalty, and kindness are much more important than outward, subjective, appearances.
The cast of Sleeping Ugly is one of the most committed you will see on any underground theatre in New York. The ensemble, consisting of Nadia Harmsen, Chayna Douglass, and Adler Roberts, created an open and interactive environment through their performances that made it impossible to leave with a frown. Maleficent, played by Anne Barschall, played the iconic role with humor, wit, and elegance. Tucker Dally Johnston as the Magic Mirror was the hilarious sidekick all villains need, (just don’t disturb him during a nap!). Andrew Gonzales as the Ugly Duckling and Paloma George as Sleeping Ugly served up utterly enjoyable renditions of these classic characters. In an astounding 45 minute run time, Sleeping Ugly accomplishes just as much for audiences and children as any classic fairy tale, but this time, by teaching us that self-acceptance is the easiest wish we can grant.