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Play Nice!

Robin Rice Lichtig's play about tormented siblings gets a sterile, badly acted production.

By New York City
Laura Hankin in Play Nice!
(© Richard Termine)
Laura Hankin in Play Nice!
(© Richard Termine)
Play Nice!, a new drama by Robin Rice Lichtig at 59E59 Theatres, claims to be inspired by The Maids, Jean Genet's post-war absurdist classic of sadomasochistic power plays and revenge. It's true that in both works, tormented siblings act out fantasy scenarios of vengeance over a female figure who rules over them like a tyrant. However, that basically -- and unfortunately -- is where the similarities between the two pieces end.

Lichtig's play sees a place for love in the equation, which is a sharp departure from Genet's starker world view. It's a legitimate one, but never portrayed with coherent motivation or drive by any of the four onstage characters: two sisters (played by Laura Hankin and Lauren Roth), their brother (Andrew Broussard), and a homeless teenaged slam poet (Debby Brand).

We hear some discussion on the difference between pretending and lying. And the brother learns to leave the space that he's in (literally and figuratively) so he can move forward. But the dramatic action of this 90-minute play is too shallow and the character voices too non-distinct for any of this to make sense.

Moreover, it would require virtuosic performances and staging to pull any of this off, especially in the surreal and difficult role-playing scenes. But neither director Joan Kane nor her actors are up to the task of breathing life into these sterile proceedings.

Hankin falls into a common trap of adult actors portraying kids by playing up the superficially childish aspects rather than inhabiting them. Neither Broussard nor Roth add any dimension to their stereotypical characters that would help explain why two seemingly strong, able youths would be so dominated -- willingly or not -- by an abusive mother. While Brand has a strong presence that could conceivably be put to good use elsewhere, she is not at all believable as someone who has spent even one night on the streets.

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