Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Only Ugly Guys
Open Eye Theatre
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's review of Reasons for Moving and Deanne's review of Glensheen

Leo Rossmiller and George Kleven
Photo by Jacob Olson
Warning: None of the four guys on stage in Only Ugly Guys, Kurt Engh's new play now mounted on the stage of Open Eye Theatre as part of their Guest Artist Series, is ugly. If you are looking for ugly guys, look elsewhere. All four men are nice looking, and being four different types there is probably someone for everyone to enjoy watching. But don't get sidetracked by that guy, keep your eyes on all four, and keep your ears pricked up too, because what you will discover is a funny, believable, and surprisingly moving play.

The show kicks off with each of the guys–they are, alphabetically, Adam, Brad, Ciprian and Dean (Ciprian was Charlie but is working on an identity thing)–diving on to the Open Eye's cozy stage from different corners of the room in only their briefs (which, we are to presume, are not "really" there, since the first thing they do is grab another pair of briefs to pull over the first one)–and proceed to frantically dress themselves, grabbing at socks, shirts, pants or shorts strewn about the stage. It is a pretty funny bit, with a head getting stuck in the collar of a pullover shirt here, a fly fighting against being zipped up there, all for guys focused on the event and avoiding any contact with one another. It is also a tip that throughout the play, these men will reveal themselves in ways that make them achingly vulnerable, only to panic and cover up as quickly as they can.

A fifth character not listed in the credits but crucial to the play is social media. Its presence means that there is an open door full of possibilities for any kind of gratification, be it husband, home and kids, or a revolving door of dates. This might seem like a wonderfully liberating tool, but in fact, having access to whatever you want puts the burden on each of these gentlemen to know what it is they want–and there is the crux of much of the problem.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I'll be clear that Adam, Brad, Ciprian, and Dean are all young gay men. Mostly, they are all out, though Brad seems to be withholding from his wealthy parents, whose regard for his "lifestyle" might affect the trust fund that awaits him. The play begins with Ciprian making a toast at the wedding of two friends, obviously peeved that he isn't the one to get married–not necessarily to either of them, just to someone. Of course, it would have to be the right someone, but exactly what does that mean for him?

In the 90-minute course of the play we see couplings between Adam and Brad, Brad and Ciprian, Ciprian and Dean, and Dean and Adam–conveniently each pair alphabetically adjacent, forming a loop from A to D and back to A. Are any of these combinations the right combination? It is possible, though there is somewhat of a tendancy in each situation for one, or both, of the guys to sabotage the relationship before they find out. We hang in there with them, waiting for the right ones to make the connection–that is assuming any of them are the right ones.

Along the way there are parties, people who ghost one another, bitchy encounters, seductions, stretches of contentment that morph into boredom, things written down not meant for others to read, falsehoods, and tears. In other words, the play rings fairly true, thanks to Engh's insightful dialogue and plotting. As a prime example, Adam tries to convince Brad that he is being too clingy, telling Brad "I can't be the only one you have sex with, it puts too much pressure on me," only to become kind of clingy himself when Brad indicates that maybe he has already moved in that direction.

Director Grant Sorenson keeps the play crisply in motion, so that we always have the fun of a new situation to sort out, though it is not always fun for the guys. The play is extremely well cast, with Alex Cavegn as a slightly bearish Brad, George Kleven as a boyish Ciprian, Jack Oleg as spikey Adam, and Leo Rossmiller as narcissistic Dean. There is a fleeting reference to the meaning of the title, which I will leave you to hear for yourself when you see it–or perhaps maybe you already know the line–but it has more to do with the insecurities of these men then with any notion to portray them as ugly.

Dean probably has it easiest, as his wants appear to be fairly easy to obtain, in no small part due to his Hollywood-handsome looks (I said none of them are ugly, which is true, but Dean is the eye candy here). Adam is a sexual health advocate and educator, which means he can speak frankly about others, but it doesn't really make him more able to be smart about his own life. Ciprian thinks he knows what he wants, but is at a loss as to how to obtain it, while Brad teeters back and forth between his passions and his reticence to be too out in the open. This leads to an unexpected and thought-provoking final scene that lifts Only Ugly Guys from a well-turned comedy into a well-turned comedy with a side order of melancholy, which might be another way of saying that reality comes calling in a sobering way.

Though, in fact, the play, even at its most jokey–and there are wonderful laugh lines throughout–has the ring of reality all along, and the four actors bring authenticity to their characters, all of which makes Only Ugly Guys well worth a trip to the Open Eye. This is a short run, but I wouldn't be surprised if Open Eye brings the play back or another theatre company welcomes this production.

Only Ugly Guys runs through June 30, 2024, at Open Eye Theatre, 506 East 24th Street, Minneapolis MN. For tickets and information, please visit or call 612-874-6368.

Playwright: Kurt Engh; Director: Grant Sorenson; Co-Technical Director: Video/Audio: Ian Olson; Co-Technical Director - Set/Lighting: Erik Paulson; Costume Coordination: Grant Sorenson; Intimacy: Grant Sorenson; Movement Consultant: Joey Miller; Stage Managers: Kurt Engh, Grant Sorenson; Producer: Kurt Engh.

Cast: Alex Cavegn (Brad), George Kleven (Ciprian), Jack Oleg (Adam), Leo Rossmiller (Dean).