Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Play Nice: Or Else

Play Nice, premiering now thru March 27th at 59 E 59 Theaters, bills itself as a “gothic fairy tale”, but is set in the modern day.  This confusing definition is indicative of how difficult this absorbing tale is to accurately describe.  Play Nice is the story of three siblings with a vain and evil mother, who is obsessed with appearances and status – Hyacinth Bucket with a disciplinarian streak.

Mother is never seen, but her presence is feared by all the children.  They have found a refuge in the attic, whose stairs are too steep and narrow for the lame and fat mother to traverse.  The oldest child, Matilda, is played by Lauren Roth, a lonely young woman limited to role of housekeeper and surrogate caregiver.  Ms. Roth provides the ground of realism and heartbreak in the home.  She is forever anchored in the reality of trying to keep her siblings from upsetting the mother.

The two younger siblings are Luce, an effeminate high school boy played by Andrew Broussard and the youngest girl, Isabelle, played by Laura Hankin.  Luce and Isabelle use pretending and role playing to escape the drudgery of their home, creating elaborate games and situations for each other. They have created a mental bond which they believe can cross physical space.

Over the course of a Thanksgiving week-end, Luce causes embarrassment to his mother by his involvement in the High School Marching Flag troop, when he performs in the Macy’s Day parade.  She responds by delivering to a mental institution to live until he is “fixed”.  Dinner and tenuous calm for the remainder of the day is interrupted when Mother is poisoned.

What transpires next is the frantic result of trying to avoid Mother’s wrath when she returns from the hospital.  There are two major stories from here.  One concerns Luce and Isabelle.  They communicate telepathically and Isabelle wheedles and begs for Luce to come home.  There is a piece of business with an imagined character, played convincingly by Debby Brand, who embodies Isabelle in Luce’s presence.

More interesting, and truly fascinating, is watching the siblings try to understand what happened on that fateful Thanksgiving Day.  At different times all three role play being “mother”.  Their interpretations of Mother, and her motivations, are starkly reveling both to the audience and the siblings themselves.  A full portrait of their mother emerges from these characterizations, and this motivates them to action.

A healthy imagination and the ability to ignore reality are key to enjoying Play Nice - in the same manner that you have to believe Snow White’s Step-mother can cook up a poison apple.  If you can go with the flow of the story, then Play Nice is intriguing piece of theater.  To see Mother reflected through the eyes of these siblings (and the actors that do so admirably with the characters) is like watching a puzzle piece together.  And the puzzle produces a satisfying picture and resolution.

Director Joan Kane does very good job of introducing this twisted reality and keeping it cohesive.  She supports Robin Lice Lichtig’s writing, which is interesting, but not a normal linear piece.  Play Nice uses this fairy tale structure to tell the moving story of children forced to grow up in a bad situation.
Playwright: Robin Lice Lichtig
Director: Joan Kane
Cast: Debby Brand, Andrew Broussard, Laura Hankin and Lauren Roth

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