Ugly Maria

Despite some inexperienced acting and lax direction, 'Ugly Maria' deserves notice for its audacious exploration of the social stigma of rape

Arts Review

Ugly Maria

Hyde Park Theatre, through March 12

Running Time: 1 hr, 40 min

Coda Theater Project's Ugly Maria demands a personal caveat. I am weary of witnessing violence onstage, simulated or not. It takes effort to quell the urge to rise and stop the commotion, especially if a performer lies on her back, legs open, screaming, writhing, and pinned underneath her fellow actor's powerful restraining arms. He (stage combat-style) hits her. She yells in agony. Lights blacken, and we hear her friend pleading for help, the sound of scuffling, accusatory expletives, and crying.

Ugly Maria is about four teenagers coping with sexuality, friendship, rape, and recovery. Maria and Ami are best friends who sneak smoke breaks together and gossip profanely while wearing their private school uniforms. Joseph and Fred, attitudinal guy pals, are correspondingly clothed with matching raunchy conversation. In advising Ami about her relationship with Joseph, Maria talks tough to prove how well-versed she is in matters of love and sex. When the guys greet the ladies for a chat in the courtyard, Ami and Joseph argue about a party happening later that evening. As revenge for Joseph's insensitivity, Ami and Maria attend the soiree, equipped with Mom's pharmaceuticals and lots of alcohol. Can you guess where this goes?

Joseph and Fred, inebriated, are on the hunt. Joseph decides Ami is too much trouble, whereas Maria seems more receptive to his swooning advances. He's wrong. What follows is the display of violence at the story's center.

After the rape, Maria prays, sobbing, "I wasn't ready." As she cries, a woman wearing funky attire emerges from Maria's enormous teddy bear. The puzzling visitor claims to be an angel sent by the Almighty to inform Maria that she bears a "Christ child" as a result of the assault. Maria, understandably, seeks therapy from Dr. Brockett, a psychiatrist numbly played by Zac Crofford. The angel, calling herself "Hurricane," continuously mumbles to Maria about how to handle the unbelievers. Nobody but Maria can "see" Hurricane, performed with spunk and physicality by Kate Meehan, or hear her. The cast effectively manages to maintain sequences of dialogue where more than two people are talking at once.

In the second act, Joseph receives a visitor, a seductively clad demon named "Hydrogen," also Meehan. We witness Tomas Anderson's flatly performed Joseph, wrestling with his guilt. He, too, attends psychiatric treatment. During both Joseph's and Maria's counseling sessions, the rape scene is re-enacted through either hypnosis or memory recall. Multiple times, we must endure this horror.

By opening up the psyches of victim and perpetrator, playwrights Mark Farias and Josie Collier give Ugly Maria a provocative hook. Alex Pippard as the jokester best buddy, Fred, delivers a blathering yet well-executed, angry monologue about God's unjust favoritism to women. As Hydrogen, Meehan overindulges, relating more narcissism than technique; as Ami and Maria, both Ashley Moore and Nancy Valdez are sincere but lack focus, oftentimes scattering their dialogue. Despite immaturity in acting and less-than-stern direction by Josie Collier, Ugly Maria deserves some notice for its audacious and unapologetic exposition of the complex social stigma of rape.

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Coda Theater Project, Ugly Maria, Nancy Valdez, Ashley Moore, Zac Crofford, Kate Meehan, Tomas Anderson, Mark Farias, Josie Collier, Alex Pippard

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