By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Oh, dear, oh, dear. From the sublime experience of An Iliad to the stumbling and mumbling of amateurs in Ugly People at Fort Worth's Pantagleize Theatre Company. Everything you shouldn't do on a stage they do, from upstaging each other to forgetting lines to engaging in the kind of shout-y acting that defines actors as tone-deaf to their own voices.
It's ugly, all right. That mournful wail by Priam in Undermain's An Iliad? I was doing it silently as I sat through the two-plus hours of Ugly People.
The play by Fort Worth writer James Venhaus takes its title from the old maxim that "politics is showbiz for ugly people." It presents a clever idea that turns to mush halfway through. Two candidates run for a series of offices, from city council to the presidency. Scott Middleton is a sincere, though not terribly smart, family man who wants to boost public education and keep the libraries open. Rob Maxwell is an ignorant goofball who gets into politics by winning an audition held by a couple of reality show hucksters trying to scam the system.
Venhaus keeps up a jokey commentary about how easily candidates are bought and sold by their handlers, special interests and the media. (For better depictions of that trope, watch the films The Candidate, Bob Roberts and All the President's Men.)
The script flips its villains and heroes as Maxwell starts listening to his Lady Macbeth-like wife (Jordyn Mahar) about how to get elected for real and Middleton gets caught on a nanny-cam shtupping his intern (Heather Alverson).
If director Kami Rogers had better talent in the lead roles (George Rodriguez as Scott and Pat Dohoney as Rob are both weak, nervous actors), then the second-act "debate," in which the audience asks questions, could provide some bits of potentially funny improv. But at Pantagleize, that part of the show is so unpolished and awkwardly staged, even the prepared responses to planted questions were bobbled.
At the finale, the audience at Ugly People is allowed to vote for the candidate they'd pick as president. As a referendum on the entire production, the only choice on that ballot has to be "None of the above."