The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Fatal Attraction and The Omen all spring to mind, as well as Jude Law’s infamous tabloid incident. But this playwright does not rely on cliches or well worn scenarios. She gives us a believable though seemingly improbable storyline at first.
A nanny appears unexpectedly from Ireland at the home of a stressed out pregnant ex-lawyer to help out with a clearly disturbed young boy. The mom’s surgeon husband is in Haiti and inconveniently incommunicado. One wonders immediately what the con might be.
Is the nanny who she says she is? What is the matter with this sullen little boy and what is he capable of? Why is this mother unable to bond with her son and what is the hidden agenda for this absent but seemingly charitable father?
All the performances in this production are stellar. Lisa Joyce plays the pivotal role of the farm fresh nanny. She was the perfect choice with her flaming red hair, freckles and bright shining blue eyes. A natural beauty, she also has a very open face and an innocence that makes you root for her even when things are suspect.
Mary McCann as the mother has the difficult task of playing a very unsympathetic character. She appears cold to her son, bitter and resentful at the shift in her life from successful lawyer to stay-at-home mom. Her character does not change much, but the audience goes through a definite shift as the play unfolds and we understand her more about her. Ms McCann evokes discomfort, fear, and empathy from the audience. There were a few collective gasps during the performance.
Young Henry Kelemen as Daniel, the clearly disturbed son sets the tone for the play. He has the right mix of robotic and erratic behaviors that those of us in the special ed community recognize immediately. Yet he has enough likable moments for us to question whether his character is indeed a bad seed.
Rounding out the cast is CJ Wilson as Richard the husband who’s motives we question throughout the play. He is effective and has one really strong and emotional monologue in the second act but it is a female-centric piece.
I so enjoyed this play that I asked the stage manager if the play was in print in the US. Apparently, although Ms. Harris has made a name for herself in Ireland and London, this is the first time her work has been produced in America. She has written a unique, thought provoking and tight dramatic piece with some very dark humor and comedic undertones.
The running time was 2 hours and 10 minutes with an intermission and I sat riveted through every scene waiting for but not wanting the climactic moments.
I did not mention the director, Gaye Taylor Upchurch, only because the play flowed so seamlessly, I did not notice the direction, which was in direct contrast to the play I saw two nights before, where the actors did business for no reason at all except that the director probably thought it was funny.
There were no false moments here. No time when a cross or a piece if stage direction did not look or feel like it was being done for the first time. So kudos to Ms. Upchurch. I assumed she must be an actress herself and my playbill confirmed that.
There are many plays out there with creepy kids, bad mothers and awful family dynamics.
Our New Girl, now playing at the Atlantic Theater Co., really rose above and outshines the majority. This is not a feel-good play in any sense, but you will be comforted by the fact that you have contributed to a worthwhile company that produces consistently good work and excited to see burgeoning new talents on the rise.