'Lucy' review — new thriller explores the joy, and horror, of motherhood

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

"It's me. Hi. I'm the problem, it's me."

That quote from the Taylor Swift tune "Anti-Hero" is apt for Lucy, a "comedic horror" produced by Audible Theater. It's also included in the show. New nanny Ashling and six-year-old Lucy perform a joyful singalong in the show's second scene while Mary, Lucy's frazzled, pregnant mother, looks on with a rare smile.

But who really is an anti-hero here, and who's purely a villain? Playwright/director Erica Schmidt mostly leaves that up to you. The ambiguity keeps Lucy intriguing for its uninterrupted 2 hours.

There is something offbeat about Ashling from her initial interview with Mary, though it doesn't immediately register as sinister. She dons mermaid leggings under mismatched, patterned maxi dresses, with jingling bangles and a smattering of random tattoos to complete the look — but that's hardly odd in New York. She's a little flighty and has a clearly put-on affect in her voice — but don't we all capital-P Perform during job interviews?

And then this 30something-looking woman reveals her age, 58, and seemingly that many years' worth of job experience. That changes things. My mind immediately went to vampire — "kids keep me young" is a refrain of hers. Then she drawled out "I loooooove baby boys" in a slightly creepy way that set off a different alarm bell in my mind. My suspicions kept flip-flopping between supernatural and sexual throughout the opening scene.

Both those theories proved unfounded. So what worries are left? None, perhaps. Maybe Ashling's just a slightly eccentric woman with a great skincare routine. Maybe she's just the breath of fresh, Type-B air that Type-A Mary's household needs. Mary seems to go on a similar thought journey in the opening scene.

But I should mention here that Mary isn't perfect, either. The single mother is almost concerningly fixed on her six-year-old getting enough exercise and learning to entertain herself — you worry poor Lucy might grow up to feel isolated or dysmorphic. Mary also confesses to Ashling, "I never felt anger in my life until I had her." But that's not mutually exclusive with love — isn't turmoil, too, just a normal part of motherhood that goes unspoken? Perhaps. Or perhaps there's something more concerning at play.

Smartly, Schmidt's play doesn't damn one woman over the other until the very last moment. In fact, if you took the best parts of each of them — Mary's fierce devotion to her kids and Ashling's freewheeling spirit — they might make one really great guardian. But it's the ugly parts of them that come to light, and only worsen, in each other's presence.

That's where the horror subtly comes in — Ashling's many acts that anger Mary include mostly benign things like making chicken soup or bringing Lucy gifts. We still might find ourselves siding against Mary for condeming them for no apparent reason, up until the end, when Mary powerfully reminds us that "because I asked you not to" is a full sentence and a message that deserves respect.

Schmidt's apparent point is that any seemingly ordinary instinct — be it a child's or adult's — is enough to deem a person unfit for your home or your life. The tradeoff is that Lucy ultimately builds up to an anticlimax, where one might expect a coup de théâtre where we uncover some depth to Ashling, why she is the way she is. And her one explicitly horrifying act as a nanny ends up reading as an oddly intense aberration among the rest.

The perfectly cast pair Schmidt has found in Brooke Bloom (Mary) and Lynn Collins (Ashling), plus an adorable and diverting Charlotte Surak as Lucy, are nonetheless worth the price of admission. Sure, you can wait to hear them when Audible releases Lucy as an audio drama. But then you won't see that "Anti-Hero" dance party, that one blissfully beautiful moment, awash in vibrant pink lights, before everything rapidly devolves. For the characters and the audience, it is exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero.

Lucy is at the Minetta Lane Theatre through February 25. Get Lucy tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Photo credit: Brooke Bloom and Lynn Collins in Lucy. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

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