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If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka

From 22 critic and 91 member reviews
Members say: Ambitious, Entertaining, Great acting, Relevant, Great staging

About the show

Playwrights Horizons presents a decidedly contemporary riff on a West African fable.  More…

In the village of Affreakah-Amirrorkah, no one questions that Akim is the one true, perfect beauty — not even her jealous classmates. But they’ll be damned before they let her be the leading lady in this story. Tori Sampson’s explosive epic is brimming with live music and dance, as these frenemies jockey for their rank in a culture built on ideals forever out of reach.

Front Row Center

“In this emotionally vibrant and engrossing tale of the power beauty has on society, written by Sampson, Gardiner’s direction brings a vitality to the tale that adds vibrancy and poetry to the actors motions as well as highlighting the story of the play in a poetic but fast paced and direct way. She utilizes the backdrop of a cold set of plastic and metal bringing out the strong colors of the writing to make a good story great.” Full Review

Diandra Reviews it All

“’If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka’ has some enlightening verses that strike you like nature itself...Legacy gives Massassi a crackling vulnerability that shuffles beneath her image as 'The Body.'...Sampson’s observance of human interaction is BRILLIANT because she pinpoints one extremely negative approach every person is guilty of: searching for others' flaws...This play is one about the human heart and how it got lost through things as superficial as skin...It is phenomenal!” Full Review

Show Showdown

"While parts of it are familiar to anyone who has ever worried about her looks, the play is also something new, in turns thrilling, touching, and funny...As an old-ish white woman who has seen thousands of shows, I am thrilled to be challenged and entertained and broadened by writers such as Sampson and directors such as Leah C. Gardiner." Full Review

New York Stage Review

"The play is Sampson’s vibrant 90-minute spin on the time-honored 'black is beautiful' maxim...Bringing 'If Pretty Hurts' to its vibrant life is proficiently handled by director Leah C. Gardiner. She sees that all the actors maximize the possibilities in a story playwright Sampson cleverly tells by placing it in Affreakah-Amirrorikah, a land, not unlike America, where racism can, in the worst circumstances, turn in on itself...See Sampson's moving, pressing fable for, well, for its beauty." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Sampson’s script plays like it’s sledding on a steep hill: You can feel the speed, the writer’s whizzing wit, the swift adjustments in tone and direction. The mixture of folklore-speak and hilarious up-to-the-minute banter is intoxicating...Gardiner’s vivid production is notable for its balance and propulsion. The cast is excellent...The combined effect of the music, the production and Sampson’s play: It's the feeling of being barraged by talent, all of it at full flood." Full Review

New York Theatre Review

"Sampson’s bold, uncompromising new play...Sampson weaves a tale that is rooted in tradition yet strikingly contemporary in a way that suggests that the importance of beauty is a tale that is truly as old as time...Sampson opens her world to magic that amplifies the circumstances of her characters and makes the things that seem world-ending to teenagers actually approach a real-life equivalent...Gardiner’s playful direction sets both actor and audience at ease." Full Review

The New York Times

"Sampson makes a contemporary fable about the black female body and its discontents. She also makes, in the Playwrights Horizons production that opened on Sunday under the exuberant direction of Leah C. Gardiner, an auspicious professional playwriting debut...Sampson uses a refreshing palette of theatrical colors to fill in the story...Though the inventiveness does not always pay off Gardiner’s well-acted and swift-moving production usually picks up the slack." Full Review


"Given that Sampson's play is bit one-note in its messaging, it's a wise choice that it's been written and staged as an African fable, complete with a brassy talking cell phone/narrator, two musicians, a pair of stunningly choreographed sequences and some noteworthy visual appeal, courtesy of Thompson's deceptively simple set, Ayite's colorful costumes, and, especially, Frey's incredible lighting design. And the commitment of each member of the cast simply can't be faulted." Full Review

Carole Di Tosti

"A genre hybrid that boasts sterling music, fine choreography and movement, and elements of the fantastic and supernatural all in the service of monolithic themes and blockbuster issues that women have been grappling with for centuries, regardless of race or culture...The production raises intriguing questions...Leah C. Gardiner’s excellent staging brought together the various elements to ingeniously effect this production and make it memorable. Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"The production blends African and American cultures in the village of Affreakah-Amirrorikah...Though spiritual music is an integral part of the African-American experience, the play loses focus when an extremely long gospel rendition distracts from the main story. Overall the blending of musical genres adds depth to the culture of the characters...The cast generates a fluid creative energy...Sampson succeeds in speaking directly to black women." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"'Pretty' polishes its surface into a fun serviceable show about how beauty, Black beauty in particular, is seen in the world. It swims fashionable forward, well-acted and inventive in nature and design, with a passion for its own telling and worth, but somehow, like anything too beautiful and fabulous, it doesn’t really know how to let us in to its inner core, and falters just enough to get pulled under by the river’s strength and current." Full Review


"Sampson has fused pop culture interactions with the magic realism of an Alvin Ailey-like choreographed folk tale to culminate her super beautiful main character's story...A Class A production. It's helmed by Gardiner, a director known to bring sprightliness and energy to a playwright's style, content, and characters...Though this play lacks the hoped for bite, it's never boring...The whole production is enhanced by the sumptuous music...The show should have lost at least ten or fifteen minut... Full Review


"A lovable but chaotic piece of theater, one that's simultaneously energizing and vivacious, and also too loose to be fully successful...The story is somewhat predictable, but there's nothing obvious about Simpson's storytelling style. Her voice is really cool and imaginative, creating a play that pulsates with contemporary vernacular and old-school theatricality...I wish the piece were just a little tighter so it could fully deliver on its ambitious style of storytelling." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"Under Gardiner’s direction, the energetic and transformative cast mine Sampson’s script for its buried enduring and essential questions; however, despite their efforts, they come up with less than a treasure trove...What could have been a modern-day African folktale about self-awareness, self-acceptance, and true beauty – full of teachable moments – 'If Pretty Hurts' becomes a fractured fairy tale searching for thematic integrity...Despite these concerns, 'If Pretty Hurts' is a must see." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"Under the direction of Leah C. Gardiner, Playwrights Horizons’ excellent production is a celebration of theatrical design...As glorious as this production is, something about Sampson’s construction feels contradictory and uneven. For starters, the beauty of a young girl hardly feels like an issue important enough to motivate or sustain an entire story...What perhaps is intended as a twist in the narrative comes off as an unsatisfying, clichéd ending that outstays its welcome." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“Despite definite signs of talent ‘If Pretty Hurts’ has several problems, not least of which is the playwright's try-anything approach, which results in a jumbled narrative. But what makes it something of a trial is its insistence on lecturing the audience at great length...It's not surprising that the director, Leah C. Gardiner, has difficulty imposing some kind of order on these proceedings, but cast often charms, even with in the thinnest of roles." Full Review

Broadway Blog

"It's a subject worth contemplating, one Sampson considers significant for black women. As explored here, however, it devolves into nearly two hours of self-conscious theatrics ranging from entertaining to innocuous… Sampson's script…blends hip school chatter with more formal language, including pretentious speeches that sound incompatible with who's saying them. A few good laughs exist, but they're usually sparked more by exaggerated comic acting than witty writing." Full Review


“Dynamically presented and sensationally performed...A surfeit of extraneous devices and a heavy-handed agenda overwhelm and drag out a tender and potentially resonant tale. There’s repetitive jokiness, a lumbering ghostly gospel sequence and an anti-climactic pretentious finale. Amidst the frustrating tangents are bright spots during a straight through nearly two hours....At the core of “If Pretty Hurts...’ is its enchanting tale that’s been waylaid by authorial excesses.” Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"There’s a disturbing, powerful play hiding inside Tori Sampson’s 'If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka,' but it hasn’t worked its way out yet...It could all make for a great, and very scary, play. 'If Pretty Hurts' isn’t quite that play, though it feels like an energetic sketch in that direction...'If Pretty Hurts' needs to actually hurt, but what we’ve been shown has more often felt whimsical than ferocious...It’s got teeth inside it, but it isn’t biting yet." Full Review

The Wrap

"Tori Sampson takes a West African fable and turns it into an all-American cartoon...Theatergoers expecting something edgy or provocative will be disappointed...The most fascinating aspect of 'Muhf–a' is how Sampson misleads us into thinking the play is about one character when it’s really about one of the other young women. That singular pleasure, however, can’t be savored until the evening is almost over. Until then, you have to deal with confusing plot twists." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"There's more high-flown poetry than vulgarism in her writing, along with an odd fusion of storytelling techniques...Do such disparate elements coalesce? Well, no...The storytelling's now-naturalistic, now-metaphorical, now-monologue, now-dialogue, now-pantomime, now-dance; and Sampson's principal concern, the unfairness of beauty standards, is stomped into the ground...There are some good scenes...But all that damn meta keeps getting in the way." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

“Director Leah C. Gardiner takes advantage of the entire theater space at Playwrights Horizons, as actors venture out into the audience, running across the theater and up and down the aisles. But ‘If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka’ ultimately disappoints. What could have been a provocative exploration fails to zero in on anything meaningful. Its examination of beauty is barely skin deep.” Full Review

Must see, Great singing, Great acting, Funny, Entertaining

See it if You enjoy fables and cultural legends

Don't see it if if you don't want to think deep

Enchanting, Entertaining, Absorbing

See it if Great show current for this time period

Don't see it if If you don’t like musical

Great singing, Great acting, Entertaining, Delightful, Clever

See it if You want to experience a thought provoking play written by a contemporary playwright with much to offer in the future. The acting, singing

Don't see it if You dislike contemporary plays and new, emerging playwrights. Why go to the theater when you know you just won’t get it.

Also and choreography is superb. There are many lessons to learn and ponder... Read more Read less

Great use of music, Quirky, Relevant, Funny, Great staging

See it if You like your thought-provoking entertaining rather than existential, you're okay with a wild plot, you love how much music can contribute

Don't see it if You like a realistic plot, you don't like humor in discussions of serious subjects

Profound, Edgy, Great acting, Absorbing, Ambitious

See it if you want to see a somewhat modified version of Mean Girls taken to the extreme

Don't see it if the topics of bullying or death trigger you

Thought-provoking, Profound, Intelligent, Great writing, Funny

See it if you’re interested in African settings, female-driven shows, or works that explore concepts of beauty and worth.

Don't see it if you prefer dialogue that’s clear as day. This story is told in an almost poetic way. The narrative is easy to follow, though.

Delightful, Refreshing, Funny, Great singing, Entertaining

See it if You enjoy music and dancing

Don't see it if Sometimes difficult to understand African accent

Refreshing, Funny, Entertaining

See it if you enjoy original work that is part folktale and part moral play with charming performances and make you think about personal perceptions.

Don't see it if You prefer traditional realistic plays.

Must see, Entertaining, Clever

See it if you like shows that make you think about this world we live in and all the expectations we have.

Don't see it if you have trouble understanding accents and rapid dialogue.

Interesting, Great set, Resonant, Great acting, Ambitious

See it if / to see a modernized African fable; if feminine beauty as determined by society is a subject that interests you

Don't see it if you need an intermission (it's almost 2 hours with none); you have trouble with accents; you like straightforward/linear structure

Great writing, Dizzying, Profound, Thought-provoking, Intelligent

See it if you’re a woman who can deal w/ harsh truths. Dissects the antagonism btwn female liberation & female beauty w/ brutal honesty & ingenuity.

Don't see it if The play is like that brilliant person who’s always cranked up to 11—unfiltered, forceful, but also attention-seeking, overbearing.

Also Sampson makes her mark. In my head, this play is subtitled Every Woman... Read more Read less

Resonant, Edgy, Great acting, Great singing, Great staging

See it if It is visually captivating with a strong story to tell.

Don't see it if You don't like African themed stories. The speech can be difficult to understand but it is worth trying.

Funny, Original, Clever, Entertaining

See it if Fable set in mythical Africa, a tale of beauty and jealousy and apotheosis. Also lots of fun and music.

Don't see it if You like realism, and don't want to hear about teen bullying, you don't like fancy or tragedy with your comedy.

Also A very entertaining play by a talented young playwright. t was a bit r... Read more Read less

Relevant, Great singing, Edgy, Ambitious, Clever

See it if If you are interested in cogent themes of the moment and unconventional views about them

Don't see it if If you can't take unconventional views that push the bounderies of common wisdom.

Satire, Funny, Refreshing, Great acting, Entertaining

See it if society's emphasis on beauty and the power and worship of beautiful people irks you.

Don't see it if you don't like satire

Relevant, Intense, Entertaining, Ambitious, Absorbing

See it if you enjoy theatrical staging and well-acted and choreographed stories.

Don't see it if you don't enjoy a tale from an African storybook.

Relevant, Thought-provoking, Ambitious, Entertaining, Clever

See it if you appreciate a play with ideas about the human condition, presented with imagination, energy and courage.

Don't see it if you prefer simplistic themes and productions.

Also This is a play which has the potential to be produced ON Broadway with... Read more Read less

Interesting staging, Too long, Relevant, Ambitious, Entertaining

See it if you're interested in African folktales; you get fun, color, music, dance, lights, energy, and talented young actors.

Don't see it if Repetitious, needs 1/2 hr. of edits for a more cohesive play; small story needs more focus.

Also Though the play is made up of African fables most of the story applies... Read more Read less

Innovative blend of theater/dance/music, Folklorish, Relevant, Great acting, Entertaining

See it if you'll enjoy a fable like exploration of beauty, jealousy, feminism. Lovely blend of theater, music, dance. Well acted.

Don't see it if will not enjoy a reminder of lessons we all know but need to be reminded of. Need a naturalistic setting and exposition.


See it if Cautious fable on society's jealousies and crimes in the name of beauty, esp on girls/women. Should be a simple moral but left me confused.

Don't see it if "African" accents confuse you. Black women's issues bore you.

Also Ticket with Young Member discount for $26.50.

Quirky, Great choreography, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Ambitious

See it if You like African folk tales presented as a teen story with dance, song, and a terrific cast. Bullying shown in an interesting way.

Don't see it if You cannot sit for 110 minutes, have no interest in jealous, confused teens or the real meaning of beauty. New playwright bumps.

Also Some good ideas in a play that takes a little too long to reach its co... Read more Read less

Intense, Great acting, Edgy, Absorbing

See it if you believe that we are sometimes judged by our appearance rather than our abilities

Don't see it if you don't want to see a play about objectifying women

Refreshing, Intelligent, Entertaining, Ambitious, Thought-provoking

See it if you like plays that make you think about familiar subjects (in this case, beauty) in new ways; if you're intrigued by African folklore

Don't see it if you're not interested in a woman of color's point of view or only like plays you can see and forget.

Funny, Resonant, Original, Great singing, Delightful

See it if A wonderful staging of a folktale that will appeal to all ages. Speaks to everyone and a special message for teenage girls.

Don't see it if Could use more music and dance, especially in the first half. This play is not for those looking for a big broadway musical.

Indulgent, Relevant, Quirky, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if You're up for spending two hours in a lively, absorbing modern African fable landscape. Great performances, and a ton of energy

Don't see it if You don't like allegorical plays, or have trouble understanding semi-thick accents

Cast & Creatives (17)