Sorry if the the above title offends you. I considered using asterisks (as a current NYC play “HateF**k” does) but knew I would be using a Playwrights Horizon program cover and it would show up unedited. A scattering of play titles have included the “F” word recently and I don’t mean “Fork.” Like the late comedian George Carlin, I believe that use of forbidden words will reduce their power so it does not bother me. Instead a different part of the title tripped me up.
Turns out that the term “Pretty Hurts” is the title of a Beyoncé song and the fact that I am not up to date on recent musical trends and memes (I’m still stuck in the 70’s, sorry). It was clear when the teenage girl in the seat next to me frequently giggled or nodded at certain lines. I got only about a quarter of the references, so I may not be the best reviewer of this work.
Director Leah C. Gardiner has framed Tori Sampson’s script in a contemporary staging with bulbs invoking a make-up mirror and stylized performance. The conceit is a West African folktale of a uniquely beautiful girl who is overprotected by her parents so that she cannot defend herself in a society of lesser beautiful girls who enviously kill her in a jealous rage driven by the attraction of a boy they desire and can only be brought back by the parents throwing all they own into the river that claimed her.
Yep, that one run on sentence is essentially the entire plot and yet it takes an hour and fifty minutes to play out. The show is definitely over padded and often drags. The performances are good and the tech credits interesting. Musical accompaniment by Rona Siddiqui and Erikka Walsh is especially notable. The end sequence spoils some of the magic the evening has spent the entire show building and returns it to a quotidian space. If the script could be tightened it would be more watchable.