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A CurtainUp Review

Bad Girls
By Jenny Sandman

When you know you're making a mistake--you know you're making a mistake--and you do it anyway. And you know you're going to be sorry later--and you do it anyway. That's a bad girl. . .
 Sarah Hyland, Merritt Wever,    
                            Anastasia Webb<
From left to right: Sarah Hyland, Merritt Wever, Anastasia Webb
(Photo: Andrew Hammer )
When Marietta (played by Deborah LaCoy) screams at her three daughters, "I'm more than just your goddamn mama!", you know Bad Girls will not have a happy ending. In Joyce Carol Oates' latest play, Marietta's three girls are the perfect embodiment of love gone wrong. They love their mother so fiercely they will allow no insiders, even when--especially when--she falls in love.

Bad Girls is a wrenching story, typical of the powerful psychological realism its author is known for. Oates is one of the most prolific modern writers -- a novelist, poet, essayist and playwright whose output is too large to attempt a list. The play about the indefatigable single mother of three girls, Isabel (Anastasia Webb), Orchid (Merritt Wever) and Crystal (Sarah Hyland) takes place in Yewville, a small town in upstate New York. Marietta her daughters, and works herself to the bone to provide for them, in part to try and compensate for a series of disastrous relationships with men. The girls are skeptical of all men, convinced any relationship will only bring heartache and another move.

When Marietta meets Isaak Drum (David Sims Bishins), the girls are instantly on their guard--more so when Marietta and Isaak fall in love. Isabel, the oldest, is a confused, angry teenager intent on rebellion, and she convinces the two younger sisters that Isaak is secretly a pervert. No one could be that harmless, she reasons--the more perfect he seems on the outside, the more horrible he must be on the inside. She talks Orchid and Crystal into breaking into Isaak's apartment to look for "evidence" of his perversion. All they find is a gun--but when Isaak comes home early and finds Isabel sneaking out of the window, her plan backfires (literally), with catastrophic results. After that, things will never be the same.

Bad Girls is infused with an almost incandescent loneliness. The girls are fiercely try to protect the core of sadness at the center of their lives because it's all they've ever known. When Isaak presents a chance for change and escape, trather than risk trusting yet another man, they destroy their chance --and their mother, in the process. Like a Greek tragedy, the story moves swiftly to its denouement, partly thanks to Oates' gifted writing and partly to director Susana Tubert (4 Guys Named Jose) who highlights the forward momentum.

The production is set firmly in drab lower-middle-class suburbia. The house, situated along the railroad tracks, is cleverly represented on opposite sides of the stage, with Isaak's apartment ratcheted up on a separate platform. The lighting, soft and impressionistic, cunningly recreates the bleak skies of wintry upstate New York, complete with power lines and melting snow.

Anatasia Webb as Isabel is a barely contained ball of fury, full of adolescent confusion and bravado. She drives the action of the play, and as such, she maintains a commendable level of internal energy. Deborah LaCoy plays the worn-out Marietta not as foil to Isabel but as partner to Isaak, meaning that Merritt Wever as Orchid, the most lucid of the sisters, steps forward as the narrator and principal character of the show. The acting is pitch-perfect on all fronts and keeps what could easily become an emotional whirlwind, grounded and tender.

Though saddening, and sometimes brutal in its honesty, Bad Girls is a jewel of a show. Besides being well-written and well-acted
Written by Joyce Carol Oates
Directed by Susana Tubert
With David Sims Bishins, Sarah Hyland, Deborah LaCoy, Anatasia Webb and Merritt Wever
Set Design by Lauren Helpern
Lighting Design by Roma Flowers
Costume Design by Leslie Bernstein
Original Music and Sound Design by Quentin Chiappetta
Running time: 1 hour and 15 minutes with no intermission
The Directors Company, 311 West 43rd Street, 3rd Floor; 212-868-4444
Mondays through Saturdays @ 8pm -- $15.
Through November 25
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on November 11th performance

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