Playwright Lizzie Stern has an ear for contemporary discourse and her dialogue is well-crafted. The characters are appealing and are finely detailed. The universal focus is on the relationships of the young women, their youthful idealism and their conflicts with their mothers. Structurally inspired, there are phone calls to the mothers, voice overs and confessional asides. Ms. Stern has a good grasp of the theatrical but her plotting is faulty.
“These girls are smart” is Ms. Stern’s description of them. Californian Nina is a Peruvian-American from a struggling family, upper-middle class Ella is from the Midwest and is gay, well-to-do Clara is Jewish and from New York City. Another dormmate is Mexican-American Lucy who is a junior. Besides their mothers, various figures at the school are encountered.
They get to know each other and become close. There are parties, membership in an improv group, vodka drinking, gender and societal debates and noble aspirations such as Nina’s goal of becoming a gynecologist to help poor women. Halfway through the 90-minute running time the defining event of the play occurs.
An unseen person has carved an anti-Mexican slur on a table in the dining hall. The girls are profoundly outraged and want the school to pursue the culprits and bring them to justice for this hate crime. The school authorities, however, have removed the table and painted it over in the belief that it’s best to move on. This event looms over the play’s second half.
Though appalling, this situation is arguably a weak device to use as a climactic lynchpin. The event as dramatized doesn’t register as monumentally heinous as it is intended to be. The young overreacting out of proportion to a perceived outrage such as this one has validity. Here, the overreliance on it sidetracks virtually everything else as the play sputters out without much impact.
Of great aid to the production is scenic designer Cate McCrea’s clever dorm room with a curtain on the miniscule stage’s back wall that indicates buildings. Adjacent to this is a ledge and separate playing areas on the sides. These elements all functionally serve as several locations that allow the actions to proceed swiftly.
Director Lily Riopelle’s resourceful staging takes into account the three-sided playing area so that the events play out with scope at every viewing angle. Ms. Riopelle’s work with the cast is evidenced by the engaging performances.
Marieta Carrero as Nina, Arielle Goldman as Clara, Rachel B. Joyce as Ella and Andrea Negrete as Lucy are all captivating and wonderfully put their individual imprints on the roles.
The magnetic Shauna Bloom brings a marvelous comedic tone to her depiction of a self-important gender studies professor and icy intensity as Clara’s mother who reminds her that the family’s Holocaust reparation checks are paying for her education.
As Ella’s mother, Dawn McGee offers a wistful portrait of an ineffectual WASP who drinks too much, and as the dean, Ms. McGee is subtly steely when protecting the college.
Jovial Ruth Aguilar warmly plays the head chef of the school’s dining hall and is a pillar of maternal strength as Nina’s mother.
Cha See’s lighting design ably assists in the scene transitions. Sound designer Valentine Monfeuga efficiently represents the musical selections and effects. Nicole Slaven’s costume design is an inspired assortment of contemporary wear that realistically defines all of the characters.
Let’s Get Ready has its charms but doesn’t evolve into a fully satisfying work.
Let’s Get Ready Together (through June 10, 2018)
The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or visit http://www.thetanknyc.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission