Writer/director Erica Schmidt’s Lucy is a play struggling to find a point of view, or perhaps a point of view struggling to find a play. If the latter is true, then that narrative position seems to be “good help is hard to find,” which generally only satisfies an audience, at least the “help” part of it, when there’s a My Man Godfrey, or even Mary Poppins, spin attached. But Schmidt apparently has adopted her position sincerely, with some topical digressions into issues like healthcare coverage and paid sick leave. Or maybe Lucy is just an exceptionally slippery satire, and I failed to grasp its profundity while wondering why the play had to last more than one scene.
That opening tête-à-tête is a job interview between would-be boss and single-mom-of-means Mary (Brooke Bloom), who earns her money working long, stressful hours as a New York radiologist, and Ashling (Lynn Collins), a hippy-dippy career nanny presumably unaware her name means “dream” in Gaelic or “pretentious” in playwriting. In both style and substance, they are polar opposites, which one might think would preclude Ashling from getting the gig to raise the pregnant Mary’s soon-to-be-born-son Max or her six-year old daughter, the titular Lucy (cutie-pie Charlotte Surak). But, as you can tell by the fact I’m still writing this review, it does not. The rigidly level-headed Mary somehow misses all the obvious red flags, especially Ashling’s contemptuously boundary-defying personality that, a convoluted self-defense aside, once led to her being fired for stealing a former employer’s expensive clothes.
If that’s not enough of a goosebumps revelation, Ashling also describes her prospective role in Mary’s household as that of a co-parent, which, granted, might have some philosophical validity. Ashling, however, doesn’t make her argument with any sense of emotional detachment. Rather, there are definite horror-movie vibes when she exclaims “I really want a baby!” Sound designer Justin Ellington should have used a few eerie theremin notes to underscore this moment while lighting designer Cha See could have cast some ominous shadows for the full effect.
To their credit, I suppose, Bloom and Collins give the performances Schmidt wrote, but the play would be better if they didn’t. Perhaps a neutral director might have encouraged them to heighten, or even just acknowledge, the absurdity of someone who scrutinizes medical images for the worst possible signs of impending doom ever agreeing to hire the flighty nanny (and not in the fun Mary Poppins way) who openly desires to usurp her maternal authority. But, if a bit more were needed to hit the résumé pile again, there’s also the issue of choosing a nanny in her late 50’s who behaves like she’s in her 20’s. That bizarreness is compounded by the likelihood that Ashling is lying about being in her late 50’s, though not in the chronological direction anyone would expect. There’s a chance Ashling is only in her early 40’s, or perhaps, as she claims, Ashling really is on the verge of retirement age and owes her younger appearance to a really good skincare routine. Or it could have some symbolic connection to Ashling’s name meaning “dream” in Gaelic. It’s all a mystery, for some reason.
Even if Mary is less discerning in her domestic hirings than any other aspect of her very responsible life, it’s impossible to believe she’s completely lacking in the common sense required to sniff out Ashling’s clumsy manipulations, which largely involve blatant digs at Mary’s more-than-solid economic status. These disdainful remarks don’t question Mary’s financial ability to engage a run-of-the-mill nanny; instead, they hint at the idea that only the best can afford the best, with Ashling somehow already having earned her designation in this equation. If there’s one thing all potential sociopaths share, it’s moxie!
Scenic designer Amy Rubin fills the stage with an orderly, clean, and thoroughly unimpressive apartment that most cramped New Yorkers would envy but not a radiologist living pretty much anywhere else. It’s a mental burden unique to some members of Manhattan’s elite that Schmidt wisely does not completely unload on the audience. Though, try as you might over the course of the play to stay focused on Ashling’s increasingly fireable offenses for which she never gets the sack–like repeatedly showing up late and hungover to work, if not still half in the bag–your thoughts do tend to drift toward the less fortunate who can’t even scrounge this level of childcare. So, maybe Lucy is, in fact, a stealth exercise in empathy. If that’s the case, kudos!
But, in all likelihood, the play is no more than what it appears to be: a jumble of poorly realized thoughts about working motherhood that, intentionally or not, also undermines a natural compassion for the subject by continually verging on a let-them-eat-cake mentality. To be fair, Mary does largely acquiesce to Ashling’s salary and benefit demands–for a job with even longer and more irregular hours than her medical one–but that comes from Ashling’s cajoling and deception, not an innate sense of right and wrong. If anything, Lucy often feels intended as a cautionary tale against falling prey to a wily servant because of a careless sense of noblesse oblige or, in more modern parlance, liberal guilt. That is indeed a rich-person problem play.
Lucy (through February 25, 2023)
Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-982-2787 or visit http://www.audible.com/ep/minettalane
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes without an intermission