What’s the difference between the theater and the movies? That question can be answered by seeing Erica Schmidt’s absorbing new thriller, “Lucy,” which Audible opened Monday at Off Broadway’s Minetta Lane Theatre.
At the movies, it would be clear to us from the single mother’s first interview with a prospective au pair that this is a Nanny From Hell and that we will soon be entertained by missing pets, terrorized children and Mom having to defend herself from being mutilated, asphyxiated, drowned in the tub or tossed out of the living room window of a high-rise apartment building.
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In the one-act 110-minute play “Lucy,” all the danger signs are also there, but in quieter ways. We watch as the experienced au pair Ashling (Lynn Collins) sits down to be interviewed by Mary (Brooke Bloom), a very pregnant single mother who already has a young daughter named Lucy (Charlotte Surak). Ashling doesn’t dress like your typical nanny (great costumes by Kaye Voyce) and her extreme devotion to the job gets a tad weird when she refers to being a “co-parent” with her past employers’ children, most of whom are male. Mary is about to deliver a baby boy, whom she is going to name Max.
That first-scene interview between Mary and Ashling plays out in real time, and while it’s a lengthy chat about kids, parenting, care-giving, career goals and dubious resumes, Schmidt knows of what she writes, and her slow and careful delivery of bizarre details sets “Lucy” on a dark, convoluted path that never fails to entice and fascinate.
But unlike a thriller at the movies, the blood never arrives. The three women in “Lucy” fight it out with words, not knives or bullets.
Because Mary is a radiologist, her schedule at the hospital is just to the left of workaholic. And still, she’s having a second child without the help of a partner. Her medical profession translates into her being a stickler for detail, and when one of Mary’s many complaints about the new nanny provokes a surly “whatever” from Ashling, it’s not a sure bet who’s out of line here.
Schmidt risks it all by committing the mortal sin of theater: directing her own play. In the movies, from Billy Wilder to Quentin Tarantino, screenwriters have made a habit of directing their own written words. The difference in the theater is that there is no cinematographer or editor to keep the director on the right track, to give nuance to the material that another set of eyes can provide.
But Schmidt’s vision of the mother/child/nanny dynamic is 20-20. Her astute direction of Bloom, Collins and Surak makes clear that the biggest problem confronting these three female characters is that they never should have been put in the same room together for over a few minutes. Much darker than any amount of stage blood is Schmidt’s subtext: some kids just aren’t a good match with their parents. Schmidt’s only misstep as a director is at the very end, which needs more dramatic punch.
Ashling, as beautifully embodied by Collins, is no parent’s idea of the perfect nanny. And yet her eccentricities could be beguiling to kids. Perhaps. But Lucy is not one of those kids. Her tantrums and nightmares only grow worse under Ashling’s care. Then again, Mary, whom Bloom effectively sends on a slow downward spiral into near madness, is no child’s idea of the perfect parent. Gnawing around the edges of this thriller is how the dark side of “having it all” is too often “caregivers not being well paid.”
My date to see “Lucy” is a mother of two. She asked me afterwards if there was anything in this play about baby vomit and kiddie tantrums that I could relate to. “Absolutely,” I replied. “It reaffirmed my desire never to have children.”