Carla R. Stewart, seen in the Broadway and national touring productions of The Color Purple, will play The Voice of the River in the world premiere of Tori Sampson’s If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka.
Directed by Obie winner Leah C. Gardiner (Born Bad) and choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly, previews will begin February 15 prior to an official opening March 10 in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street. Performances are currently scheduled through March 31.
Stewart joins the previously announced Rotimi Agbabiaka as Chorus, Maechi Aharanwa as Ma, Jason Bowen as Dad, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy as Massassi, Leland Fowler as Kasim, Níkẹ Uche Kadri as Akim, Mirirai Sithole as Adama, and Phumzile Sitole as Kaya.
In If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, 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.
The creative team also includes scenic designer Louisa Thompson, costume designer Dede Ayite, lighting designer Matt Frey, original music and sound designer Ian Scot, hair and wig designer Cookie Jordan, production stage manager Alyssa K. Howard, and assistant stage manager Noah Silva.
In a statement playwright Sampson said, “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. 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.”
Gardiner added, “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. 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.”