Friday, May 29, 2015

Nice Girl

What does it mean to be a "nice girl"? And is it really a positive label? In Melissa Ross's Nice Girl at the Labyrinth, Jo (the smart and subtle Diane Davis) doesn't feel nice at all. She knows that she is angry and even bitter, and that she only carries out the actions that make her seem nice because she's too passive not to.

Diane Davis
Photo: Monique Carboni
Jo lives with and takes care of her mother, Francine (Kathryn Kates), a woman who rarely changes out of her housecoat and whose only exercise is pressing Jo's buttons. Although Jo was once student at Radcliffe, her father's death and her mother's neediness truncated her education. She is now a secretary at an accounting firm, depressed and lonely. She is 37 and stuck.

One day Jo's coworker Sherry (the wonderfully vivid Liv Rooth) reaches out to her. Where Jo is turned inward and doesn't even know what she wants, Sherry explodes outward, with a loud voice, overdone makeup, and strong appetites that she fulfills whenever she can. Sherry tells Jo that has been dating--and loving--a man who just recently mentioned that he has a wife (they're separated) and child. Sherry is furious at him, but she is also angry at herself for the general messiness of her life. She sees Jo as, yes, a nice girl, and she thinks that a friendship might be good for both them.

Sherry is an unstoppable force, and Jo, to her surprise, discovers that she herself is not an immovable object. Sherry gets her to go out after work, and they even discuss becoming roommates. Unfortunately, Francine too is an unstoppable force, and she makes it clear that Jo must not move out.

One evening, Jo stops at the butcher's on her way home from work. The butcher, Donny (the natural and convincing Nick Cordero), is an old schoolmate of hers, and they chat. Donny has split up with his wife, and Jo thinks that he might be flirting with her. They eventually decide to go to their high school reunion together.

Between friendship with Sherry and an ambiguous relationship with Donny, Jo finds herself changing, or maybe just finally paying attention. She still isn't sure exactly what she wants, but she is certain that she wants more than she has.

Ross writes with humor and compassion. While she covers some familiar territory, she makes it new and real for these people in this situation. Mimi O'Donnell directs with grace and balance and perfect pacing, which includes true and necessary silences that somehow ring with emotion.

Beside perfectly evoking the world the characters inhabit, set designer David Meyer gives us five separate locations through simple, creative, and efficient changes. It was fun to see his ideas unfold. Emily Rebholz's costumes add to our understanding of the characters; even Francine's frumpiness is particular to Francine.

Nice Girl is a small play, yet hours later I still feel strongly affected by it. After only 120 minutes with Jo, Francine, Sherry, and Donny, I care about them, miss them, and wish them well! That's good theatre.

(first row; press ticket; general seating)

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