This work is filled with contrasts. With realistic and poetic depictions of an abusive marriage, it tells of denial and proactivity, of the possible reasons women stay and the probable reasons the violence cycles through generations. Nelsan Narie Ellis wrote and directs the work, which he also imbues with vivid visual contrasts. But perhaps the most startling contrast of the evening is the feeling we're left with: We hope it makes the lucky among us grateful for our peaceful lives and the abused among us inspired to take action.
We first see the Alice in a pool of her own blood—a red velveteen robe that flows over the entire stage (costumes by Dawnee Mashea, lighting by Geroge Vennes). We then meet the living Alice, portrayed by the rich-voiced Lynn Wactor, as she lived—a vibrant, playful, intelligent mother and wife. Alice's husband (J. David Shanks) is uneducated but literate, alternately brutishly jealous and gracefully romantic. He is also paternal with their son, Leon, teaching the boy "black fu"—his made-up-for-fun African-American version of kung fu. Yes, the family is black. Leon, however, is played here by the young blond actor Christopher Mowod, who can in no way "pass." Also onstage, dressed in white, is Sweetie (Abby Gerdts)—the voice of conscience, a guardian angel, somewhat the narrator—also played by a white actor. Confusing at first in this nonlinear language play, the presence of two whites gives the work added metaphoric, universal meaning, further enhanced by the "world music" of Eric Picotte-Harper (accompanied onstage by Victor Parades and Abdul Salaam).
Alice's persistently wishful thinking, her romanticizing of her marriage, could stem from her mother (Toi Perkins), who lives in denial after Alice's death. But, like Alice's sister (Damali Scott), Alice is aware of the danger, warning her unborn daughter in one of the plays most moving repeated refrains: "Baby child, please call the fire department the first time you realize your house is on fire…."
Seemingly improvised scenes between Wactor and Shanks highlight the "realistic" scenes. The no-nonsense Scott and the ethereal Gerdts represent well the opposite approaches to problem-solving. And Raymond T. Williams takes his small role of the brother behind prison bars and makes it refined and memorable.
Be aware, seek help, take action, don't wait, the play implores. It is a message worthy of delivery, and it is well-delivered.
"Ugly," presented by Soul UpRising Productions at the Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 6 p.m. May 8-21. Also Tue. 8 p.m. May 10 only. $25. (323) 960-7735.