The Ugly Man, Defiant Theatre, at Strawdog Theatre Company. It’s hard to tell if Brad Fraser intended his updating of The Changeling, a bloody and misogynistic Jacobean revenge tragedy by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, to be the shlockfest that Defiant Theatre is offering. But if he intended to create modern equivalents of wandering ghosts, magic potions, and an enshrined virginity, he doomed The Ugly Man to being unintentionally hilarious.
Bent on vengeance, the disfigured title character unleashes a series of atrocities when he falls in love with an evil virgin. Realism here is not only out of the question–it would be deeply offensive. Yet Fraser’s bland, pedestrian dialogue plays as if it’s for real, even though no audience would accept the preposterously perverse plot and the soap-opera theatrics as anything but soft-core camp.
Fraser and the diabolical excesses of his Jacobean models have proved a good match in the past: Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love revealed the same take on sex (it’s toxic), nudity (it’s functional more than sensual), and homoeroticism (it’s a surefire harbinger of murder). Maybe he belongs in the 17th century.
Linda Gillum and Barb Thometz’s staging of The Ugly Man revels in the clumsy melodrama. Jennifer Chervenick’s virginal Veronica and Nick Offerman’s deformed Forest, mild rip-offs of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, are both repellent. Their sex scenes barely smolder, and the horror scenes carry few shocks. We’re left with the kind of creepy camp an indulgent audience may find irresistibly tawdry. –Lawrence Bommer