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Theatre Review by James Wilson - February 6, 2023

Image: Lynn Collins and Brooke Bloom
Photo by Joan Marcus
Lucy, Erica Schmidt's new play, now in its world premiere production by Audible Theater at the Minetta Lane, begins with a mother of a six-year-old girl (and a baby on the way) interviewing a potential nanny. It is easy, and indeed something of a national pastime, to judge women's parenting choices, but from the first minutes after meeting the job candidate, I personally would have made a different hiring selection. Perhaps it was the nanny's acknowledgment that she sees her role as a "co-parent," or maybe it was the way she refers to herself as a "baby whisperer." In any case, wise decisions make for good living, but they make for terrible dramas. It isn't much of a spoiler to say that the mother will soon wish she interviewed a few more applicants.

Mary (Brooke Bloom) is a single mother and radiologist. She works very long hours and needs someone to take care of her daughter Lucy (Charlotte Surak, who is adorable) and the newborn when he arrives. Ashling (Lynn Collins) is a career nanny, and although she has been with one family for fifteen years, she is ready to move on to a new home. To her credit, Ashling has energy to spare. She says she's fifty-eight, but she looks like she is in her early forties. You're inclined to believe her when she says, "Kids keep me young."

At first, Ashling appears to be a godsend. She dances with Lucy around the apartment to Taylor Swift's "Anti-Hero," and she does more than is expected with housecleaning and laundry. "It's what I do," she says matter-of-factly. But then Mary starts to catch her in little lies–not George-Santos whoppers, but little ones, like saying she's on a gluten-free diet, and then the next day she casually eats a bagel. And is Mary just smelling things or is Ashling wearing perfume after denying that she does so? Domestic bliss continues to deteriorate, and Lucy starts to act out. Curiously, the child is having strange nightmares about a witch with no eyes.

The premise is reminiscent of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, a film about an evil nanny causing death and destruction in her path. The stakes in Lucy, though, are very low and as a psychological thriller, it is hugely disappointing. Plot points don't always make sense, and there are few clues as to why Ashling does what she does. Is it class warfare? Maybe psychological manipulation or something darker? The audience the night I saw it was primed to scream, but the revelations are laughably banal and the suspense and danger do not accumulate. We are told several times, for instance, that Lucy is at odds with Ashling, but we don't see it. They seem to get along just fine as they dance, play, and eat soup together. Even the ending, which promises a tense standoff between the two adults, is both too timid and too tepid. When the final lights went down, there was a noticeable sense of dejection in the applause.

Schmidt is also directing, and this may be the problem. Another director might have pushed the playwright to choose a lane: Write a searing drama about the difficulties facing single mothers and the fraught class issues involving child care-givers, or write a gripping thriller about a psychologically manipulative nanny. Lucy stubbornly sits between these approaches, and the result is deflating.

All is not lost, though. First, the production is beautifully designed. Scenic designer Amy Rubin has reproduced a Manhattan two-bedroom apartment that would make most New Yorkers envious. Cha See's lighting, Kaye Voyce's costumes, and Justin Ellington's sound effectively capture the worlds in which the three characters traverse.

Even more notably, the performances rise above the material. Collins is daffy with a subtly subversive mean streak as the nanny. She deftly balances the contradictory impressions of a woman who wholesomely (if underhandedly) hangs with the moms at Lucy's school, and rebelliously enjoys weekend flings with an indie rock-band front man. She is also off-kilter and devious enough to make me wish we could see her go full out Rebecca De Mornay.

As Mary, the harried and gaslighted mother, Bloom is especially good. Watching her transition from insecurity to frustration to desperation is truly impressive. It is a master class in acting to watch her physically and emotionally register each little lie and bizarre behavior by the woman who has taken over her home.

I wanted to love Lucy, but this nanny was just not a good fit.

Through February 25, 2023
Audible Theater
Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, New York, NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: