Disturbing and enjoyable, how can a play be both? “Another Word for Beauty” by Jose Rivera encapsulates feelings of joy, happiness, vulnerability and fear all in one performance. Drawing in diverse audiences, the Goodman sets out to show the city of Chicago how life differs not only in another country, but in a women’s prison. Performed at the Goodman Theatre from January 16 to February 21, 2016, this is a show you do not want to miss.

Director Steve Cosson structures the play to enchant viewers to a delightful pageant, but then haunt them with chilling flashbacks into many womens’ lives. “Another Word for Beauty” by Academy Award Nominee Jose Rivera aims to expose the prison systems of Colombia. At the beginning of the show, humor is immediately evident as the narrator, played by Socorro Santiago, introduces herself. All of a sudden, a musical number breaks out. At this point in the play, music is fitting, as the tone of the show thus far is humorous. After the music and colorful lights dim down, a more serious and somber feeling overtakes the audience. Laughter in the audience ceases as The Mermaid starts introducing the women who live in the prison. Each woman introduces herself and the nickname she earned at the prison. All of the characters started referencing a “beauty pageant.” Sitting in the audience, I was thinking to myself, “How could a prison possibly hold a beauty pageant?” All of the women worked together with their “patio” to design dresses, practice makeup, and learn to walk with confidence. The true meaning of the beauty pageant started to become evident. Warmth and comfort filled the audience, as women with all different backgrounds were working together for one common cause. The warm feeling quickly departs, as The Mermaid begins introducing some women again. The lights dim and everything on the stage freezes and only the women being talked about move. Each woman has a story, a reason they are in prison. The stories darken as the play goes on. I almost forgot the play was about a beauty pageant, but I was quickly reminded when bright lights, feathers, and gorgeous dresses took the stage in the second act. One woman from each “patio” participates in the pageant. Despite the pageant going on,
The Mermaid pauses the pageant and introduces more women and each shares her story. During a flashback referring to child molestation, I felt so vulnerable and disturbed, I knew I would be extra cautious walking to my car after the performance. At the end of the pageant, all of the contestants are brought to the stage to answer a question. Each woman gives a chilling response that makes the audience sympathize with her. How is only one winner going to be announced when each woman deserves the crown for different reasons? The winner is announced and celebration breaks out on stage. Humor comes back to the stage and the stories shared seem to disappear and become irrelevant.

“Another Word for Beauty” by Jose Rivera gives the audiences many questions to reflect on. What if one simple mistake led to earn a lifetime in prison? Is beauty skin deep? What exactly is beauty? Is there truly another word for beauty?