Continuing the celebration of its 35th anniversary season, Edgewater’s Raven Theatre (6157 N. Clark St.) is hosting the premiere of playwright Melissa Ross’ “Nice Girl” Jan. 24. Directed by Lauren Shouse, this contemplative drama laced with subtle comedy will strike a chord with audience members.
“Nice Girl” takes place in Boston in 1984, a time when men had an easier time dominating the workforce and women struggled to climb the corporate ladder. Lucy Carapetyan stars as Josephine Rosen, a 37-year-old unmarried secretary living at home with her mother. Determined to turn her life around, Jo, with the help of Sherri (Stella Martin), her new coworker-turned-friend, sets out to find happiness using one magical word: yes.
Jo’s life didn’t turn out the way she planned. After a year of attending Radcliffe College on a scholarship, she returned home to care for her ill father and subsequently widowed mother, Francine (Lynne Baker). Jo never finished her degree, blaming her mother for the fall through.
This mother-daughter relationship depicted in “Nice Girl” might be relatable for many. Francine’s needy habits impede on Jo’s ability to be an independent, self-sufficient adult as she has to direct and watch her mother’s every move with tasks such as making dinner and arranging doctor appointments.
All her life, Jo is considered to be the “nice girl,” much to her chagrin. It only takes one night out on the town with Sherri for Jo to loosen up and begin indulging in life’s pleasures. Although Sherri’s outgoing and assertive personality contrasts Jo’s reserved and timid one, they’re there to comfort and support each other.
Setting aside her own struggles, many of which have risen from being in love with a “sorta” married man, Sherri is determined to help Jo find happiness.
Sherri’s efforts are short-lived, as Jo reconnects with her former high school classmate, Donnie (Benjamin Sprunger), the handsome butcher. As fate would have it, the two continue to bump into each other and the affection only grows deeper.
“Nice Girl” puts a heartfelt and comedic spin on the journey of discovering oneself. The vernacular is filled with sarcastic and snarky comments, such as Francine’s feelings about “putting out the good candy,” sparking sudden bursts of laughter every few minutes.
Taking place in a smaller, 105-seat theater, the audience is in closer proximity to the stage in comparison to larger theaters, making the experience all the more special. The set — the Rosen household — transports the audience from modern day to 1984, adding to the nostalgic energy of the play.
Music plays a significant role in any play, as it adds to the overall ambiance of the show. In “Nice Girl,” the ‘80s soundtrack is well curated. Serving as background music before the start of the show and during intermission, the pop-rock tunes, such as “Africa” by Toto, add just the right amount of pep to the show, making audience members want to jam to the melodies.
Amid the hardships of the plotline, the play radiates positivity, from the warm color scheme of the set to the attitudes of the actors. Each of the four acts flow seamlessly due to the production’s superb acting; it’s almost as if the actors were related and best friends in real life.
“Nice Girl” transmits a strong and powerful message to anyone who’s struggling with finding themself on his or her path in life, and to not give up hope, no matter how desperate the situation might seem.
Originally convinced she would be in a state of eternal unhappiness, Jo realizes she must create her own happiness, rather than expect and depend on a man to come sweep her off her feet and magically solve all her problems.
As realization sets on Jo, she is left with hope gleaming in her eyes. Her newly-discovered ambitious sense of purpose radiates to the audience, who end up leaving the theater with a renewed sense of optimism for what’s to come.
“Nice Girl” serves as a proper reminder that not all stories have fairytale happy endings. Things tend to happen for a reason, and it’s up to the individual to make the most of every situation. In the end, it’s about the relationships one creates that make life’s events bearable.
“Nice Girl” will play at the Raven Theatre through Mar. 11. Tickets are available for purchase online at www.raventheatre.com or by calling 773-338-2177. Tickets cost $46. Discounted tickets are $43 for the general public if purchased online and $15 for students.