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Alsaegh’s experimental ‘Too Beautiful’ debuting at Festival of New Student Works

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If you’re looking for a thought-provoking experience designed to make you feel a little on edge, the University of Great Falls Theater will be the place to be the next two weekends as Saif Alsaegh premiers his latest work titled “Too Beautiful.”

The play is one of three original works showing at UGF’s “Festival of New Student Works.”

Travis Vermulm acts out a scene in "Too Beautiful" at the UGF Theater.
Travis Vermulm acts out a scene in “Too Beautiful” at the UGF Theater. Karen Armenta and Frances Kane stand in the background.

The show runs Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m., and again next Thursday at 9 and next Saturday, April 18, at 4:30 p.m. On the UGF campus theater.

The other two plays, also created by UGF seniors, are “Montana the Musical” by Ken Taylor, and “Burton’s Variety Hour” by Jessica Burton.

“Montana the Musical” can be seen Sunday at 3 p.m., next Friday at 7:30 p.m., and next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. “Burton’s Variety Hour” can be seen Saturday at 7:30 p.m., next Thursday at 7:30 and Saturday at 3 p.m.

Alsaegh’s play, “Too Beautiful” looks to be the most experimental of the three, and we spoke to him recently about what people could expect and how he hopes it’ll be received in an exclusive chat with the talented Iraqi writer and UGF student.

“Too Beautiful” according to the official program “talks about a playwright and a novelist who live dark lives. Both hallucinate, both talk to God, both hate cities and it’s dull sun. Both have a tiny bit of hope left in humanity, and remember that life is pink, glittery and too beautiful.”

It stars Josh Wendt, Travis Vermulm, Kyra Langston, Karen Armenta and Frances Kane.

The film shown in the background during the play is by Tyson Habein along with Saif and his brother Fady.

Saif Alsaegh directs his actors in a recent rehersal for his play "Too Beautiful" at the UGF Theater.
Saif Alsaegh directs his actors in a recent rehersal for his play “Too Beautiful” at the UGF Theater.

Alsaegh said much of this show is experimental theater that references ideas such as the belief in god, and the dangers of war, among others.

“There’s a lot of references to old theaters, references to the 1920s, to war, references to the routine of big cities and the system as a social element,” Alsaegh said. “There’s criticisms of war, to love, to family … it’s basically 20 minutes of some weird shit.”

Alsaegh added that while it comes off as a little weird, he’s found that there’s a lot of comedic elements in the show, also.

“I wanted ot have this idea of sarcasm with these beautiful but dark stories with comedy in it,” he said. “I think for me, I would say 40 to 50 percent of things the actors do I was laughing, so I see it as one of these dark comedies way more than a drama, sort of like ‘Birdman’ really funny but very sad and very dark, too.”

Much of the experimental elements, Alsaegh said, comes from the lighting and stage direction used throughout.

He said his show, while much shorter than the other plays in the festival, still has many more lighting effects that act as the stage itself.

“During the first piece there is going to be a video playing in the background, a repetitive short film we made along with a lot of different colors and a lot of music from international countries especially the Middle East,” he said. “There’s drums and this dramatic music. The second piece will have a lot of lighting, there’s coloring, spotlights, there’s literally no set, the set is the lighting and the music.”

Alsaegh said he was surprised how receptive his two lead actors were with their roles, saying because he’s never directed something like this before he wasn’t sure if they’d fully get it at first.

“I really didn’t think they would get it, but Michael Gilboe advised me and told me I had more time, so I used half of the time in rehearsal to study some art and we watched some weird films, listened to some weird music to put everyone in that atmosphere because this is not a typical show,” he said. “Once they started to assess the realism in this show and the idea of being abstract, I think they started getting the characters right. Plus, I think Josh and Travis are very smart people so they got it right away.”

Alsaegh said while his actors found the inspiration right away, he hopes people who watch his play leave the theater feeling a little uncomfortable.

“I know a lot of people will be offended by (this show) or find it dark, but I mean, if art makes you comfortable, it’s hospital art; art that you need to heal rather than leave you dying, which for me is more artistic and more beautiful,” he said. “I don’t want people to come see a show that is just beautiful or just cute, I want them to see a show that disturbs them and makes them think. I think if art makes you uncomfortable it’s good art even if for Great Falls that’s a very different style.”

Admission to see “Too Beautiful” is $5 at the door. A festival pass to see all three performances is $15.

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