There is entertainment and there is insight. You get both from Nobody’s Girl, New Jersey Repertory Company’s latest foray into the risky, rewarding world of U.S. premieres. This time there’s even more danger than usual in the air – the kind of excitement its enlightened audiences have come to expect from this find of a theatre south of New York City in Long Branch.
You also get tour-de-force performances from all four actors. At times, the rapid fire repartee resembles the improvised motions of a basketball team passing the ball around the court, each response astonishingly fresher than the last. And then somebody goes up for the shot.
This is a media story. It’s about the commercial value of “true” feelings – the more shocking the greater the value. It begins with a simple story with the appearance of truth that spins out of control on a wayward path to unimagined success.
Judith Hawking, who previously blew the place apart as socialite Pamela Churchill Harriman, is worth the price of admission. As literary agent Ronnie Lowe, she once again shows us what I can only call “genius of attitude” – by which I mean her words, gestures, body language and facial expressions collude to imprint on your consciousness another unforgettable character. Nothing about her performance seems like it could or should be any other way.
Tyrrel (Gregory Haney), Ronnie’s assistant, calls himself outre (pronounced “oo-tray”) and just in case you don’t have your French dictionary handy the word means outrageously excessive and he is. His character’s performance is a performance. In an interview, the Australian playwright Rick Wiede called this character gender fluid. Haney pulls it off. Sometimes you can see the observation he is about to deliver expressing itself through his physique before it sallies forth.
Nita/Currah (Layla Khoshnoudi) blossoms. That’s the only the word for it, even if the blossoming is into a dark flower. Her two names trace the path of her ascent/descent into a kind of success that is completely contemporary which tells us as much about ourselves as it does about her. Sure, the character (and the actress) have a head start (someone else has written the script) but she (the character) is the one who completes the makeover sending a nasty plot in an unthinkably nastier direction to the delight of the cynical Ronnie Lowe and the chagrin of its author, Anthony Donnally (Jacob A. Ware) who prefers to be called Ant.
Often in drama it seems that those parts where the character is playing a role have more energy about them and offer greater possibilities to the actor. The literary agent and her assistant are consciously playing the roles of being themselves, clearly a daily performance, and Nita has had a role thrust upon her which she embraces with gusto, then extends. Only the author of the plot himself is not creating a character. But Ware, with his hesitations, self-doubt and disappointment, renders his character completely believably, without being handed the tools of extravagance by the playwright, no small achievement.
Then there is the audience. That’s our part. We know it well, as we scan the humdrum television news daily, waiting for that next unbelievable but true story to which we’ll eagerly give our attention for a few days.
By Rick Wiede; directed by Erica Gould; set design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; sound design by Merek Royce Press ; technical director, Brian Snyder; costume designer, Patricia Doherty; stage manager, Jennifer Tardibuono.
With: Gregory Haney; Judith Hawking; Layla Kashnoudi; Jacob A. Ware
At NJ Repertory Company (179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ — 732-229-3166; NJRep.org) through September 20. Thursdays & Fridays 8pm; Saturdays 3pm & 8pm; Sundays at 2pm.