August 20, 2017
Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Ugliness runs wild in beautiful one-woman show

By Victoria Eandi
Herald staff

Kartun’s La suerte de la fea plays on eroticism shaped by polar opposite performers

In his book The History of Beauty, Umberto Eco points out that each culture has its own notion of what is beautiful and what is ugly: “According to different aesthetics theories, from Ancient Greece until the Middle Ages, ugliness is the antithesis for beauty, a lack of harmony which violates the rules of proportion from a physical and moral perspective.”

So beauty is clearly a construction depending on a certain world view. But Eco says there is consensus on the idea that “even if there are ugly things and creatures, art has the power of representing them in a beautiful manner and the beauty of this imitation makes ugliness acceptable.”

About ugliness and beauty in human beings and art, but also about appearances and sad realities, about desire and frustration, and so many other topics — as usually happens with such a witty playwright — is Mauricio Kartun’s La suerte de la fea (The Luck of the Ugly Woman). It was written a decade ago but it had never been premiered in Buenos Aires. It is directed by the talented Paula Ransenberg, who previously —as ironic as it may seem — wrote Para mí sos hermosa (“You Are Beautiful to Me”), a gem which keeps coming back every season and where she alone plays all the characters.

La suerte de la fea is also a one-woman play, but in this case it is a monologue articulated from beginning to end by the same character: a violist whose name is, by the way, Viola.

Luciana Dulitzky, a very effective actress, knows how to keep the audience fascinated with the story of an ugly woman — who “violates the rules of proportion” which are socially imposed and only finds meaning in her art, drawing inspiration from an attractive young lady. Dulitzky had directed Ransenberg in another one-woman show, Sólo lo frágil, so they are now exchanging roles.

In the early 20th century, show clubs were a regular phenomenon in Buenos Aires. The patrons were mainly men who drank while taking in the show but especially looking at orquestas de señoritas (orchestras of young women), good-looking women dressed in sexy outfits, who displayed their grace and beauty on small stages as if they were showcases, keeping in step with the music which in fact was not performed by them.

They only mimicked the performance in a sensual manner, while the actual musicians were hidden behind the curtains or in an orchestra pit, because they were old or ugly. But they had the talent or competence playing those instruments that the beautiful show girls, called figurantas, pretended to perform. Viola is one of those unattractive musicians who play for those show girls.

Following Kartun’s style, the universe of this piece revives those “minor” genres of show business in a very endearing way, generating a theatre-within-theatre effect. Viola tells her story from the small stage of the bar, next to a gramophone and old records, something that has a determinant turn at the end of the monologue.

In fact, it is a long speech said to the (imaginary) owner of the place and manager of the show, and who is presumably in the orchestra pit (he always remains outside the scene).

Designer Alejandro Mateo has done a great job recreating the stage and costumes of a century ago in a tiny spot, where the actress stays during the performance, moving very little herself but nonetheless managing to capture the attention of the audience. Farther away from that space, Fede Berthet plays the viola under a dim light, commenting the monologue himself through music.

The title of the play is the first half of a popular expression, La suerte de la fea, la bonita la desea (“The pretty woman yearns for the luck of the ugly woman”), which in the monologue is not in fact really proved at all. Luck is actually understood as fate in this case, and even if the beautiful women referred to by the violist are not precisely lucky, the fate of the ugly storyteller is quite gloomy.

As usual in Kartun’s texts, words are idiosyncratic and poetic at the same time, and they are crucial to construct, through the character of the violist, a fiction which grows and grows in unexpected, captivating ways.

In the logic of “the double” proposed by the system of show girls and real musicians (a relationship reminiscent of Cyrano de Bergerac), an unforeseen mysticism emerges between the violist and Yolanda, her show girl.

It is similar to the one created between a puppeteer and the puppet, but in this case it is not really clear who is who, even if the ugly musician expresses how the attractive figuranta drives her (almost forces her) to play unusual — enchanting and appealing — chords.

That mysticism is loaded with eroticism , a “pornographic alchemy” — in Viola’s words.

Music is clearly related here to a Dionysian impulse which pushes a whole crowd of viewers/listeners (aroused men but also Viola herself) to an ecstatic condition (Nietzsche said in The Birth of Tragedy that of all the arts, music was the most Dionysian).

Kartun has the wonderful skill of making a viewer think about Dionysius and Nietzsche even through the story of a frustrated violist in a cheap and “fake” orchestra lost in some forgotten corner of Buenos Aires (in fact, in a corner of a small auditorium in Timbre 4).

With La suerte de la fea, Kartun, Ransenberg and Dulitzky prove that beauty and ugliness can depend on talent, proposing other patterns which go beyond the conventional ones. In art, and in this production, beauty occurs when a special alchemy happens (using Viola’s words) thanks to an authentic and strong creative impulse.

Where and when

Every Sunday at 5pm at Timbre 4 (Boedo 640). More information on


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