The moment Our New Girl started, I knew I was in for a roller coaster of an evening. There is only one character on stage and it’s dark, clearly night time. We immediately find out that he’s slightly off kilter, and he’s only eight years-old. The scene ends with quite a disturbing surprise and as itÂ transitions to morning, every audience member knew this play had a serious plot unraveling.
This new play by Irish playwright Nancy Harris is not a play for the weak minded. It’s a strong, feministic play about the stark realities of being a mother, having children andÂ being married. Some plays sugar-coat it, this play certainly does not.
When we meet Hazel (played by the marvelous Mary McCann), we find a stressed, very pregnant mother of Daniel, an eight year old. Richard, her husband (played brilliantly by CJ Wilson) is a doctor who is constantly traveling. Mary is holding down the fort in his absence, starting a new business and taking care of her extremely quiet, yet volatile child (played by Henry Kelemen). They live in London in an upper middle-class life.
Out of nowhere appears a nanny (played by Lisa Joyce) from Ireland. Hazel is rather annoyed as it seems that RichardÂ ordered a nannyÂ while working in Haiti. She insists that the young girl return to Sligo, but as they speak, she realizes she is indeed overwrought and needs help, so Annie stays and things start to normalize. But things quickly go amuck when her son causes problems at school, adopts a tarantula as a pet and develop a strange affection for knives. They get even worse after Richard gets home. Daniel gets freakier and Annie’s personal history starts to unravel, revealing she is not the mother figure first portrayed.
I applaud Gaye Taylor Upchurch, director ofÂ Our New Girl. Â The play deals so skillfully with the emotions that come with the role of parenthood. How does one take care of an emotionally charged child? Is quitting aÂ high-power job and staying home the answer? How does one Â navigate the waters with a nanny who comes into theÂ home to live, work and gets to know the family membersÂ so intimately? How does one compete withÂ a successfulÂ husband, who brings in the money and gets to travel around the world saving lives? When a woman starts to pity her life, how can she hold up the rest of the family members?
Upchurch takes us from one charged scene to anotherÂ with a lot of twists and turns, some I expected, some I didn’t.
I also have to praise Henry Keleman, the little boy, whose character must have been really hard to play. We’re never told if he has a mental illness or what his problem is, but he comes across as slightly demented and VERY scary, in an Exorcist way. Keleman had a bit of a sneezing attack in the first production that I attended and kept it together. I give the rest of the cast kudos, too, for dealing with this sneezing and then an audience member’s ringing phone immediately after. They all stayed in character and the play kept its aura of tension.
Our New Girl is playing until June 29th. You can buy tickets here.
Disclosure: I was provided with free tickets but all opinions are my own.