Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney
The ‘girl’ in the title of Rick Viede’s new play currently onstage at NJ Rep is Currah, a young Muslim who claims horrific abuse at the hands of her father in an Iranian cellar. Her world also includes Ant, a scheming social worker, Ronnie Lowe, a slick literary agent, and Tyrelle, Ronnie’s campy gay assistant. When Currah’s controversial memoir (also titled Nobody’s Girl) hits the bestseller list and vaults her to mega-stardom, the power struggle between the foursome twists and turns as they ruthlessly play the fame game – for keeps.
Viede’s play is actually a revised version of one he wrote in his native Australia. Now a New Yorker, the play has been re-tooled, re-titled, and re-thought for American audiences. An award-winning young writer and performer, Viede takes on the monstrous topic of fame – questioning who we choose to put on a pedestal in our Kardashian-crowded world. To wield his dramatic sword, he utilizes the recent phenomenon of the ‘misery memoir’ – biographical tomes so horribly bleak that we question their authenticity as well as the veracity of their authors. Luckily, in Nobody’s Girl, precious few bother to question Currah’s tale of abuse and redemption. We soon learn that the social worker has aspirations to be a famous writer – at any cost – and NJ Rep audiences quickly put the puzzle pieces together (even if Currah’s adoring public doesn’t). Complicating matters, Viede has Currah claim she actually enjoyed being sexually abused, making it difficult to imagine a world where Nobody’s Girl (Currah’s biographical tome and perhaps the play itself) might earn favor with the public. Viede chooses razor sharp wit to put forth his themes (at least in Act One) and it is his first-rate cast that help him achieve his vision.
Nobody’s Girl is vaguely reminiscent of the work of playwright Douglas Carter Beane, especially his 1997 pop culture satire As Bees In Honey Drown. Beane’s most recent exercise in quip-filled satire was Shows for Days at Lincoln Center Theater. Lincoln Center had Patti LuPone – NJ Rep has Judith Hawking. Hawking plays fast-talking Ronnie Lowe, who eagerly (one might say greedily) helps Currah transform from wide-eyed waif to media darling. Physically and vocally, however, Hawking’s take-no-prisoners style owes more to Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada than Ms. LuPone.
Greg Haney Teamed with Gregory Haney’s Tyrelle (a self-hating homosexual fashionista), they deliver Viede’s dishy dialogue with the split second timing of a gold-plated Rolex. Jacob A. Ware’s Anthony (or Ant, as he constantly insists on being called), is a mass of nervous tics about his behind-the-scenes role in the plan. Viede’s skillful writing allows Anthony / Ant to put forth the most despicable deception imaginable, yet remain a charming loser at the same time.
Layla Khoshnoudi As Currah, Layla Khoshnoudi grows from a scrappy climber to a manipulative schemer who allows fame and fortune to go to her pretty (but empty) head. Khoshnoudi more than capably holds her own against powerhouse Hawking, especially in the play’s grimmer second half, where the fame game escalates to life-or-death mode.
The show is billed as “a provocative new play for American audiences.” Perhaps the description refers to the play’s earlier origins down under, or perhaps it is a sly condemnation of our national fascination with the sordid stories that fill our media. Either way, Nobody’s Girl certainly lives up to its claim of being provocative.
NOBODY’S GIRL directed by Erica Gould
Jacob A. Ware
set design by Jessica Parks
lighting design by Jill Nagle
sound design by Merek Royce Press
costume design by Patricia E. Doherty
technical director, Brian Snyder
stage manager, Jennifer Tardibuono
Nobody’s Girl plays through September 20th at New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey. For tickets call 732.229.3166 or visit www.njrep.org