What is it about Jersey that gets such a bad rap? Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Lewis, Joe Pesci and Bon Jovi all came from the Garden State. Before Sin City opened its first casino, Atlantic City was a gambler’s playground for years and with its beach and boardwalk, it played host to the Miss America Pageant for decades. But despite these facts, New Jersey is constantly the butt of tri-state jokes and poorly depicted in the media, i.e. Jersey Shore. Then came a fictional story set in an attic in Ridgewood, New Jersey, touted as a gothic fairytale, and my hopes that New Jersey would be seen in the public eye as more than a fist-pumping toxic dump was restored. Unfortunately, Play Nice! did little to enhance New Jersey’s public image nor did it fully live up to its potential as a gothic fairytale.
Play Nice! focuses on Isabelle, Luce and Matilda. On the surface, their lives seem ideal, but behind the doors of their home their reality is quite different. Each of the kids are forced endure their fare share of abuse from their mother, who is an obese alcoholic. Determined to prove to her neighbors that she deserves to live in this affluent bedroom community 20 miles from New York City, the children’s mother demands perfection in and out of the home, which is only partially furnished to enhance her façade. The bulk of Luce and Isabelle’s time is spent in the attic escaping into their world of make believe where there mother, the Dragon Queen, cannot reach them. Matilda is relegated to be the maid and her mother’s verbal whipping girl. The play’s dark plot primarily takes place in the attic – very V.C. Andrews’ gothic, but that is where the similarity stops. On Thanksgiving Day the mother is poisoned after having her afternoon tea and the children must utilize their active imaginations to simulate the events leading up to the poisoning.
Play Nice! is a journey in which pretend can uncover truth and stretches the idea of what a fairytale can be. It also challenges one’s typical perception to the term gothic. My issue with this dramatization was the venue in which it took place. I believe the stage, especially an Off-Broadway one, might not do this story justice. Ridgewood, New Jersey is a very well-to-do village, but with exception to the mother’s references to this idyllic town, the audience does not get to experience it. The pretend sequences between Luce and Isabelle once he runs away from his mother are well acted, but the lack of background diminishes the somberness of their reality. Play Nice! will end its limited run at 59E59 Theaters on March 27. While it is not necessarily my cup of tea with regards to a play, I firmly believe this story would work well if not better as a film and would happily pay $8.50 to see if my theory is right, as well as to see a few scenes of New Jersey shown in a better light.
Photos: Richard Termine