Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Our New Girl ***

Irish playwright Nancy Harris’s gripping psychological drama, after a highly praised London run, has reached New York and is now in previews at Atlantic Stage 2. The title character is Annie (Lisa Joyce), an Irish farm girl who turns up unexpectedly in the London kitchen of the quite pregnant and quite overwhelmed Hazel (excellent Atlantic stalwart Mary McCann) to be the new nanny for her troubled 8-year-old son Daniel (a remarkable Henry Keleman). Trouble is Hazel’s husband Richard (CJ Wilson), a plastic surgeon away doing charity work in Haiti, has not bothered to tell Hazel about it. Daniel is a handful, acting out in school and at home, with a stare that could turn water to ice. When Richard returns, he and Hazel continually fight over just about everything, especially about how to raise Daniel. Since Richard hates his day job injecting wealthy ladies with botox, he finds satisfaction and a bit of glory with charity missions in world trouble spots. An added benefit is the chance to escape his unhappy household. Hazel had been a high-powered attorney. On holiday in Sicily a year previous, she was so smitten with Alessandra, an earth mother figure who seemed able to do it all, that she impulsively decided to quit the law and open a home business importing Sicilian olive oil. Crates of it now clutter her kitchen. Hazel would be the first to admit that motherhood does not come easily to her. Annie bears the scars of an unhappy past and tries as a nanny to provide better nurturing than she got. One of the play’s greatest strengths is that the characters are all complex, alternately evoking our sympathy and our disapproval. The play opens with a shocking wordless prologue that is difficult to watch but is definitely an attention grabber. Harris is skillful at building suspense. I found the ending less than satisfying and was puzzled why a woman who found motherhood so difficult would even consider having a second child. Timothy R. Mackabee has designed a sleek, aptly sterile kitchen. Sarah J. Holden’s costumes are appropriate. Dialect coach Ben Furey has wrought convincing British and Irish accents. Gaye Taylor Upchurch directs seamlessly. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including intermission.

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