Opposites attract, predictably, in ‘An Ugly Man & Beautiful Woman’

By Shim Woo-hyun
  • Published : Apr 29, 2019 - 17:25
  • Updated : Apr 29, 2019 - 17:25

Two lovers destined for each other is a popular cliche in the romance genre. The phrase “and they lived happily ever after” is the stock ending.

The first-ever theater adaptation of Belgian writer Amelie Nothomb’s novel “Riquet a la houppe” (“Riquet with the Tuft”), a Seoul Arts Center production that runs there through May 19, features a man and a woman destined to meet, but it leaves out the details of their life together.

In “Riquet a la houppe,” a 2016 update of 17th-century French writer Charles Perrault’s tale by the same title, male lead Deodat and female lead Tremiere are destined to meet, fall in love and live happily ever after together.

Baek Seok-kwang (left) and Jeong In-ji portray Deodat and Tremiere in “An Ugly Man & Beautiful Woman.” (SAC)

The Seoul Arts Center’s two-hander is largely faithful to Nothomb’s story, except that it leaves out the “happily ever after.”

“The two actors and I talked a lot about what to include and what to leave out,” director Lee Dae-ung said during a press conference Tuesday at the center. “We decided to make the two characters meet on a TV interview program in the finale of the play. There are more episodes that follow in the novel, but we decided to leave them out to focus on the two characters and their meeting at the end.”

Another difference is the title. “An Ugly Man & Beautiful Woman,” the title of the Korean-language edition of Nothomb’s work, is perhaps another element that makes the story predictable.

The drama starts with a scene from the TV interview program, where the two characters will have their Disneyesque romantic encounter in the end.

From then on, the story jumps back and forth between past and present, as well as between the two characters, showing how they have come to meet.

The high-spirited and humorous main characters make the flat and obvious narrative interesting. The two actors play 20 different characters in the play.

Actor Baek Seok-kwang plays Deodat, an ugly yet intelligent man who has decided to become an ornithologist after many failed attempts at relationships.

Deodat, teased for his ugliness as a youngster, quickly learned how to win people over and get along with others. Before he was even a year old, Deodat was smart enough to say, “That dress suits you very well, Mummy.”

When bird flies over Deodat and the droppings land on his head, he takes it as a sign that the bird -- unlike humans -- has chosen him, and decides to become a bird expert. 

cap - Director Lee Dae-ung (right) speaks during a press conference held Tuesday at the Seoul Arts Center. He is joined by Baek Seok-kwang (left) and Jeong In-ji.(SAC)

“I tried my best to find the least offensive way to express the ugliness of the character. I focused on expressing the psychology of a character who suffers from others’ gazes,” Baek said. The introverted character resorts to rapping about his suffering to explain himself to the audience.

Actress Jeong In-ji plays beautiful jewelry model Tremiere, who is rather introspective compared with Deodat. Tremiere is also a character who has had her share of personal suffering.

Because both Tremiere’s parents were busy with their jobs, as a child she was sent to live with her grandmother Passerose -- unlike Deodat, who was raised by adoring parents.

Inspired by her grandmother, who was fond of jewelry, she decides to become a jewelry model.

Although she is very attractive, Tremiere is mocked for her aloofness. Unlike Deodat, she decides not to befriend others, choosing to live with her wounds.

The various episodes extracted from the original novel build up to the final scene where Technicolor lights are turned on, and the reason why the two characters are doomed to become a pair is explained in detail.

By Shim Woo-hyun (ws@heraldcorp.com)