The theme lurking inside “Nobody’s Girl,” the play making its U.S. debut at New Jersey Repertory Company, is hardly original, but it is a valid one: the medium is indeed the message. It is tempting to dismiss Australian playwright Rick Viede’s main point, that sensationalism trumps truth, because of the vile example in his play and the coarse-beyond-measure way it is expressed, but it is a worthy topic. Elucidating that concept should take about 20 minutes, which makes “Nobody’s Girl,” which runs two hours plus intermission, 100 minutes too long.
It’s incumbent upon me to note that I saw the second of three preview performances that preceded the official opening. Essentially a final rehearsal (at full public ticket price), it went off without an obvious hitch, but commenting on the acting, unless it was exemplary, is considered by this former actor to be off limits, so we will not. Same for director Erica Gould, whom we’ll simply dub Enabler-in-Chief.
The play, however, is fair game, and “Nobody’s Girl” certainly is nothing if not gamy. The setup is that a young woman is hired by a nervous-wreck of a would-be writer to front a fake memoir that he will write on her behalf. To sensationalize the book, he includes (and I wish there were another way to put this) that she had been kept in a cellar where she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her father (described, btw, in the crudest of terms), and that, as she now declares “I enjoyed it! I miss it!”
Promoted as a “viciously funny…hilarious satire” with “razor sharp wit,” the play has none of those qualities. There are scattered laughs, but most of them are nervous reactions to the subject matter or to its awkward delivery. I mean, really: how funny is incestuous sexual abuse or the preening and prancing of a bi-racial homosexual who drains all the sophistication from high-concept ‘camp’? And how is dialogue saturated with the f-word (a favorite among “modern” playwrights…because they can) “razor sharp wit?”
As awful as the first act is, the second matches it before finally lapsing into absurdity, when they enlist the young woman’s mother into the deception. Part way into that second act, one character yells “Shut up!” at the others. Would that they had.
“Nobody’s Girl” is re-written from a play in which Viede’s main character was an Australian Aboriginal. Now set in the U.S., she’s an Iranian Muslim whose ghost-written “memoir” is created out of whole cloth. The original title was “The Hoax.” Be guided by that.
Through Sept 20 at NJ Rep, 179 Broadway, Long Branch. Thurs & Fri at 8pm; Sat 3 and 8; Sun 2pm. Tickets ($45): 732-229-3166 or online at www.njrep.org