Monday, June 24, 2024

"Only Ugly Guys" at Open Eye Theatre

After adapting/directing/producing a play last fall that was "unlike anything I've ever seen before" (an adaptation of the Norwegian novel Naive. Super, with a different actor performing the solo play each night), Kurt Engh returns with an original play that once again inventively uses sound, video, and technology to tell a story. In this case, it's the story of four young gay men in a modern rom com that's very funny and engaging, and well performed by this cast of new-to-me young actors. Only Ugly Guys is presented as part of Open Eye Theatre's Guest Artists Series, which has already brought us Madeleine Rowe's charmingly odd solo piece Honey, I'm Home. It's great to see this established theater host the next generation of theater makers on their sweet little stage, and the group of artists behind Only Ugly Guys makes the future of #TCTheater look bright. The short run concludes on June 30.

photo by Jacob Olson
We meet these guys in the beginning of the play in a hilarious sequence as they scurry to get dressed after a night of, well, you can imagine. We soon learn that two of them are recent boyfriends of only a couple of months, and Ciprian (George Kleven) is a little more into the relationship than Dean (Leo Rossmiller) is. The other two, Brad (Alex Cavegn) and Adam (Jack Oleg), have been together for several years, and the cracks in their relationship are beginning to show. Over the course of 90 minutes, the four characters fall into and out of love and lust with each other, in the search for something... more. At first I thought this was Ciprian's story, as he narrates the events with "he said" or "I thought." But then it becomes Adam's story, then Dean's story, and finally Brad's story. In turns out it's four interrelated stories about these four very different young gay men, who are all endearing (at times) despite their questionable choices.

Playwright Kurt Engh once again plays with the form of theater, taking risks and incorporating technology to make the show feel very 2024. The play uses recorded audio at times, sometimes with characters lip syncing, sometimes as if we're listening to a podcast. Characters also occasionally speak into hand-held mics, adding an interesting emphasis to their words. We also see videos from Instagram or YouTube projected onto a screen, as well as text messages, utilizing some of the ways we consume news and entertainment on a daily basis in the theatrical storytelling. The stage is mostly bare, with a gray bench on one end hiding a few props, and a desk on the other. A black curtain hung across the arch is used for some fun effects (video and audio design by Ian Olson, set and lighting design by Erik Paulson).

George Kleven, Alex Cavegn, Jack Oleg, and
Leo Rossmiller (photo by Jacob Olson)
Much of the credit for making all of these pieces come together and make sense probably goes to director Grant Sorenson (whose Arrow Theater produced a couple of memorable shows about five years ago). And he does well with this talented young cast too. For the second night in a row, I saw the products of the U of M/Guthrie BFA program, and continue to be impressed. Three of these four not ugly guys are currently in the program or recent graduates; the fourth is a product of another great young actor training ground, the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts. Everyone in the cast is great, creating these specific characters and somehow making us like them.

See the funny, clever, inventive, and very modern Only Ugly Guys at Open Eye Theater in South Minneapolis through June 30, and get a glimpse of the next generation of theater makers.