Review: “The Ugly Kids” at the Fresh Fruit Festival

Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

There are several people out there who are dealing with some sort of eating disorder, which is having a significant impact on their health and their day to day lives. Chances are, even if you don’t have an eating disorder yourself, there’s a strong chance that you know someone who does. It’s just like any other mental illness, and deserves far more attention and discussion than it is currently getting from society. Thankfully, The Ugly Kids – one of several outings at this year’s Fresh Fruit Festival – is here to try and shine some light on the effect this issue is having on young people.

Written by Anna Michael and Tony Macht, this new musical follows the story of Chris, a young, college-aged woman who struggles fitting in with others, and is just starting to befriend some of the kids involved in the poetry club at her school. However, her struggles with her eating disorder – along with broader mental health problems – keep her from embracing her future and her new friends fully, as we gradually see over the course of the story. It’s a story that is well-written and quite poignant, and likely related to anyone who deals with not just an eating disorder, but potentially a wide variety of mental illnesses which prevent people from enjoying life to the fullest, as it did Chris.

The cast featured Moira McAuliffe, Patrick Swailes Caldwell, Joey Nasta, Kendal Cafaro, and Alicia Moeller. Each of them did a very fine job at bringing these characters to life, and bringing both the emotional and psychological gravitas that they seemed to call for. Under the direction of JT Friedman, the show is staged expertly, and the actors are given freedom to display an adequate amount of energy to carry this production, with their performances.

While the entire score was performed with a piano in the corner, the way it synched with the tone of the show – along with the story and acting – made this practically a non-factor, even though it’s the sort of the thing that might have made it feel like less of an exciting event to watch, in the case of other musicals. Here, however, the minimalism almost feels like a perfect fit for this show.

In terms of the plot and message, this is exactly the type of musical theatre I’d love to see more of: Catchy music, but also smart writing and a powerful message behind it, and that’s exactly what we see with this show. My one complaint is that I wish it were longer! The ending, in particular, felt a tiny bit abrupt, although I would have loved to see this show and its characters developed even further. Nonetheless, it is a fine musical, and perhaps we will see that wish fulfilled, should the show return in a future incarnation…

“The Ugly Kids” ended its run at the Wild Project as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival on July 21st.