Review by Tulis McCall
(16 Mar 2011)
Nope. Nope. I was lost on this one. Completely!
This play is bounced as having been inspired by Genet’s The Maids. Well, Genet’s play is about two maids so caught up in the sink hole that is their lives they take turns alternating playing their mistress and plotting to kill her. Here too, there are characters playing dress up and plotting. But these are children, and the person against whom they are plotting is their mother.
Apparently one of the children, Isabel (Laura Hankin) lives in the attic of the house. Why she was put there? Why she stays? How she survives? – None of this is addressed. Or maybe she isn’t really living there and maybe it is part of the games that she and her siblings Luce (Andrew Broussard) and Matilda (Lauren Roth) are playing. It is the only safe place to hide from their mother who is too fat to climb the stairs and torment them.
Anyway, they do a lot of pretending these kids. Mostly it is about their mother who is abusive in every conceivable way. And there are the usual games of dragons and princesses.
The story takes a turn when Luce makes it out of the house and into the city. He arrives at the subway only to find that Isabel is communicating with him. She can see where he is in the subway and moves herself back and forth between realities by unzipping walls. In the subway Luce is looking for a spot to claim where he can truly feel his sister’s presence. Trouble is that the spot belongs to a homeless woman named Joanie who is a poet suffering from missing her father and a case of poems trying to work their way out.
Meanwhile we discover that the Mother may be in an institution and the kids are now alone – but who is to say if any of it is real? Isabel time travels to find Luce and threatens to do herself bodily harm if he does not return with her. He does and brings Joanie who the siblings turn into a perfect daughter as a present for their mother.
That is about as much as I can tell you. I think I have it right, but this one was like crossing a stream using stepping stones that switched places. I kept thinking someone was going to come out on stage and explain the story to us, because the actors were only able to follow the script. And the script is a mystery.
Nothing in this story hangs together. The actors did a great job trying to make the pieces fit, but sadly nothing worked. This play is too clever by half and the choice of obscurity landed the story square in the middle of the playing field where everything was foggy and unclear. Either push the envelope all the way or add some guideposts of realism for us to follow. As it is Play Nice is neither fish nor fowl. We are lost from the outset and stay that way to the very end.
What the popular press said...
"Torturous script... Listless production."
Mark Peikert for Back Stage