The Off-Broadway Theatre Review: Audible Theater’s Lucy
It starts with the distinct profile of a pregnant woman, dressed all in black in a well-appointed apartment. She’s standing there. Hesitant and nervous. Waiting for the world to start moving forward. Impatient and apprehensive for what it may bring. There are no visible signs that this is a home for or of a child. So we incorrectly believe this might be her first. She chops at the pillows, not knowing what’s in store for her in this next chapter, but we feel the tension. And that state, miraculously and wisely, never leaves Erica Schmidt‘s new play, Lucy, now playing at the Minetta Lane Theatre through February 25.
Mary, played with a raw frazzled energy by Brooke Bloom (Signature’s Everybody), is a captivatingly fixated presence. She almost vibrates with intent and anxiety. She’s waiting to interview a nanny and clearly wants to approach this with the same sense of certainty that she does with her intense hospital job. It’s also apparent that when Ashling, the soon-to-be new nanny arrives, Mary is floating in a muck of imperfect concern, even as she masks it with a working person’s structural confidence. Yet, we feel the dread of inadequacy entering the space, especially as we watch Ashling, played engagingly by Lynn Collins (Public’s Hamlet), display a worrisome approach to caregiving, planting red flags with every overly optimistic answer and inappropriate ‘joke’ she renders. You can feel the disagreements coming, and we all know that this alignment will end badly, but the question is in what way, when, and just how badly this is going to go.
This single mother, created captivatingly by playwright Schmidt, is a complicated construction, floating out disturbingly in her overly controlling fixation on her six-year-old daughter, Lucy. She’s tightly controlling of her daughter’s sleep schedule, her approach to exercise, and her ability to entertain herself. It is as disconcerting as every time Ashling, the new nanny nods with a sing-song agreement to everything the mother tells her to do, with us knowing full well that Ashling is going to discard the instruction as easily as a child does when they don’t want to do it. This, I’m guessing, is the formula behind the play; a tense unpacking of the right and wrong, even in the benign. Ashling’s defiance is over simple caregiving choices, like making soup when she is told not to, which seems slight until Mary points out the obvious. “Because I asked you not to.” We register the discomforting way she talks about her love of her other ‘boys’ and how her little girls never seem to hold that much weight in her heart. It makes us worry about Lucy, the namesake of the play, and the explosion that is sure to be coming along soon. But we can’t quite put our finger on what the tension we are feeling throughout will ultimately lead to. Which in the end is the point yet also the disappointment that stays once this one-act, two-hour play comes to its final dismantling exit.
As directed somewhat awkwardly by the playwright herself, Schmidt (Red Bull Theater’s Mac Beth) displays dissidence within and outside the structure and flow of the piece. It’s never quite clear what the focus is, nor why this play is named after the six-year-old daughter, Lucy, played cutely by Charlotte Surak (Broadway’s Waitress). She is greeted with a cute “awe” by the audience, as she wanders in and out, liking soup and the teddy bear, yet speaking ominously of a witch with no eyes. That point isn’t taken very far, or played with near enough, much like a number of comments dropped on the floor like fruit loops on a rushed morning. But does this child really hold the attention that the title implies? I wanted her dilemma to become somewhat enmeshed with the overall conflict of these two perfectly cast actors playing opposing maternal figures. Brooke Bloom (Mary) and Lynn Collins (Ashling) dynamically unpack the rolled-together conflicts that must reside inside every primary caregiver, that balancing of impulses that oppose one another and cause endless sleepless nights worrying about what is right or wrong. And in Lucy, they get played out in front of us, embodied in two tight solid performances, colliding against one another in a battle to the bitter end.
Mary confesses early on, almost without self-awareness, “I never felt anger in my life until I had her.” But we also see that this particularly tense part of her is fundamentally balanced by her fierce overwhelming devotion to her children. Her home reflects her control, as designed somewhat broadly by Amy Rubin (Signature’s Octet), with strong lighting by Cha See (TNG’s One in Two) and a clear sound design by Justin Ellington (Broadway’s Ohio State Murders). Mary doesn’t have Ashling’s free-floating spirit, well structured and obvious in the costuming by Kaye Voyce (Vineyard’s Harry Clarke), which is at times comforting yet disconcerting. So we don’t quite know what to make of Ashling. I kept feeling very wary of the nanny and her ability to maneuver around any overt obstacle without batting an eye, and even though Mary’s maternal instincts seem really off balance and intense, she isn’t outside her right to ask for what she wants for her children. Even if we disagree.
Ashling’s many acts of defiance slowly set off alarm bells to both Mary and us, yet we wonder what the turning point will be. Unfortunately for Audible’s Lucy, the crash is just slight, and unworthy of our attention to all those details presented. I wanted something with greater insight, rather than a threateningly mediocre slamming of the story’s door as the pairing comes to an end. What happens after? I’m guessing not much of interest. It feels like it wraps up like a shrug, even if we were fully experiencing the tense air just minutes prior. So we leave Audible’s Minetta Lane Theatre with a shrug, and at least for me, a grateful sigh (both positively and negatively) that nothing terrible happened because of Mary’s tight anger and Ashling’s bohemian disregard. But nothing brilliant happened either.