The upcoming world premiere of Tori Sampson’s If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, directed by Leah C. Gardiner and choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly, has found its cast for its upcoming Playwrights Horizons run. The new play, a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize finalist, is a contemporary riff on a West African fable brimming with live music and dance.
Performances of If Pretty Hurts will begin February 15 for a limited engagement scheduled through March 31.
The cast features Rotimi Agbabiaka (regional productions of Bootycandy; Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2, and 3) as Chorus, Maechi Aharanwa (The Winter’s Tale, An Octoroon) as Ma, Jason Bowen (The Play That Goes Wrong, My Mañana Comes) as Dad, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (regional productions of Seven Guitars, The Model American) as Massassi, Ian Duff (Dutch Masters; Homeland) as Kasim, Níkẹ Uche Kadri (School Girls…, The Death of the Last Black Man…) as Akim, Mirirai Sithole (School Girls..., The Homecoming Queen) as Adama, and Phumzile Sitole (Orange Is the New Black, Elementary) as Kaya.
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. In If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, these frenemies jockey for their rank in a culture built on ideals forever out of reach.
“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," explains Sampson, who is making her New York City professional debut with the production. "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.”
“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," says Gardiner. "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.”
The creative team for the world premiere also includes Louisa Thompson (scenic designer), Dede M. Ayite (costume designer), Matt Frey (lighting designer), Ian Scot (original music and sound designer), Alyssa K. Howard (production stage manager), and Noah Silva (assistan stage manager).
For tickets and more information visit PlaywrightsHorizons.org.