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Monday, June 15, 2015

Margin Notes: Nice Girl

Diane Davis and Liv Rooth as Jo and Sherry.
Photo by Monique Carboni.
Nice Girl

Seen on: Saturday, 6/13/15.
My grade: A-.

Plot and Background
Josephine Rosen lives with her semi-agoraphobic mother in Boston, 1984. As her high school's 20 year reunion looms large, she looks back at the choices she's made, and didn't make, and wonders if it's too late to change her life for the better - with the help of a new friend at work, and a new romance with the local butcher. Can she break out of being a Nice Girl to be a real woman? The play is written by Labyrinth company member Melissa Ross, and signals Artistic Director Mimi O'Donnell's return to directing after the death of her partner Philip Seymour Hoffman.

What I Knew Beforehand
Nothing into nothing, carry the nothing ...

Thoughts:

Play: So while I couldn't figure out a way to describe the plot that made it sound compelling, the play itself truly was. The characters felt deeply human, their various relationships felt honest and yearning. I was extremely glad I got to see it with a good friend, as the friendship between Jo and Sherry, new though it was, was deeply felt. The whole cast was truly unified in the world under director Mimi O'Donnell's sure hand; and, thanks to the intimacy of the space, small honest moments flavored the entire performance. The play's final moment was especially moving - not a definitive conclusion, but after two hours of disappointed dreams and regrets - a moment of uncertain hope. It almost didn't matter who was behind the headlights of the car pulling up - what mattered was that it mattered.

Cast: All four actors are just wonderful, completely inside their characters with no sense of artifice, even with the broad Boston accents running rampant. Special notice must be made for Diane Davis as Jo - so much of her performance as the titular Nice Girl must happen beneath the surface, fragilities she's terrified to reveal, her struggle to appear carefree. And then of course it all breaks down - but in a silent and heartbreaking howl of pain and despair, alone on her front porch. She gives a lovely performance, one I connected to all too easily. I should also give props to Liv Rooth, whose performance as Sherry balances carefully on the edge of caricature, but remains firmly grounded in her genuine desire for friendship. Kathryn Kates's Francine also successfully skirts cliche - even as she is often the stereotypical hypochondriac Jewish Mothah, she's also deeply protective of her daughter, and not understanding why Jo suddenly has all this anger and resentment toward her. Nick Cordero's Donny is affably sweet, with a social clumsiness that seems made to match Jo's own awkwardness.

Design: David Meyer's set, ostensibly a kitchen sink realism set - complete with kitchen sink - is much more than initially meets the eye, with panels sliding in and out, a rotating wall, and other such contraptions to help transport the rather small playing space from Jo's house to a butcher's counter, an office lounge, and even a nightclub. It is smoothly and impressively done. Japhy Weideman's lights help in this regard as well, switching from natural lighting to fluorescent, to strings of red Christmas lights lining the ceiling beams, to headlight beams illuminating a front porch. Emily Rebholz's costumes manage to effectively evoke both period and character - Francine in one brightly-colored housecoat after another, Jo in modest but not unflattering skirt-and-blouse outfits, and Sherry in bolder, brighter choices to match her bouffant hair and personality.

***

Running: Now playing at Bank Street Theatre (Labyrinth Theatre Company) - Opened: May 27, 2015. Closing: June 21, 2015
Category: straight play
Length: 2 hours, including intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: Melissa Ross
Director: Mimi O'Donnell
Designers: David Meyer (Set), Emily Rebholz (Costume), Japhy Weideman (Lighting), Ryan Rumery (Sound).
Cast: Nick Cordero, Diane Davis, Kathryn Kates, Liv Rooth.

Diane Davis and Kathryn Kates as Jo and Francine.
Photo by Monique Carboni.

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