You can tell the play Nice Girl at the Labyrinth Theater is set in the '80s because when a woman in a housedress enters the living room and flicks on the set, the television has Jane Pauley on the Today show. Her daughter, Jo, follows, to make breakfast for her mother before going off to work. Jo (Diane Davis) is a nice girl, a term that could translate to "good girl": She's quit her scholarship to Radcliffe after her father's death to take care of this mother (Kathryn Kates), and she's a bit of a frump with no social aspirations. At her humdrum secretarial job she takes a lunch break with Sherry (Liv Rooth), the kind of girl you knew in high school who always pushed you beyond your comfort zone. Big-haired, made-up, and loud, Sherry is devastated by a recent breakup. The guy she hoped to make a life with just told her he was married. Not as trampy as she looks, like Jo, she wants a better life than she thinks she deserves. "Everyone should fall in love," she says, "It's like voting. A right." You can see Jo's reluctance, but she and Sherry resolve to go out to some bars.
Nice Girl, beautifully written by Melissa Ross, follows the quiet rhythms of characters, particularly Jo, ruminating in silence. This was before cellphones and other distracting devices stole our reflecting time, so Jo's inner life engages us. We read her gaze as she sits on the porch as the sweeping headlights of a car flash across her face. The light is like Gatsby's on the other side of the water, signaling a desired future. Japhy Weideman's lighting design is first-rate, as are all this play's production values. The car you never actually see belongs to the butcher, Donny (Nick Cordero), Jo's former classmate who has had some disappointments of his own. Last seen in Bullets Over Broadway as the literary-minded, singing and dancing gangster, Cordero got rave reviews and a Tony nomination. In this smaller dramatic role, he makes no less of an impact. Under Mimi O'Donnell's superb direction, Nice Girl's wistful wisdom makes for excellent theater.
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