Review: The Geffen Playhouse – The Niceties

The west coast premiere of THE NICETIES at Geffen Playhouse is excruciatingly intellectual ── an apotheosis of the American political divide. It is a mesmeric scrutiny of two opposing perspectives on matters of race and inequality in America ── a searing truth that makes us take notice at what happens when we don’t listen to each other. It forces you to examine yourself and those from different walks of life with new eyes and ears. Playwright, Eleanor Burgess delves into murky water with these two strong invincible female leads. Written with the pen strokes of a virtuoso, Burgess is a shining star. 

The setting is an elite university in the Northeast over a three-week period. Two strong liberal women, who seemingly appear to have commonality, begin with a nice conversation regarding an American History paper that catapults to national attention and threatens both their future. The young idealistic student pushes the envelope by recording part of the opinions of the history professor and blasts it on social media.

The dialogue is riveting – bold and in your face. It’s what happens when you put an African American student and a white female professor a generation apart together during a very contentious time in America. It is 2016 ── Ferguson, the Republican election victory, riots, a lethal combination “about to go crazy” as the young college student Zoe says to her history professor, Janine.

The interaction between the two leads is engaging and under the direction of Kimberly Senior, the acting leaves you on the edge of your seat. Senior does a superb job interpreting the text and pacing the performance.

Lisa Banes (Professor Janine Bosko) plays the role with precision. Her acting skills are as good as it gets. Watching her strut on stage is entertaining and she nails the haughty, flippant older sophisticated “all knowing” arrogance of an arm-chair liberal. It was interesting to watch the character pivot from having compassion and patience with her student to outright survival mode when she utters the line (and I paraphrase.) “A good person can feel really good about doing something really bad.” Banes credits include Present Laughter on Broadway, Gone Girl the film. 

Jordan Boatman (Student Zoe Reed) unleashes havoc upon the tenured professor with provocations that magnify into an aggressive attitude.

Boatman knows this character and plays her to the hilt. Beginning sweetly and nicely in her demeanor with the professor she soon becomes triggered with any innocuous statements from the professor. Her acting is good, powerful and moving. In contrast to the professor, Zoe refuses to sit back and play under societies rules; she is an activist in the trenches. Protesting and marching takes priority over polishing her history paper. She recently appeared in Hulu’s The Path. She originated the role of Zoe in The Niceties at Huntington Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club and McCarter Theatre Center.

Burgess creates a brilliant work with a pedagogical impact on the audience; subjective honest points are powerfully articulated to shift and rethink what you think.

Crafted with balance and fairness ── Burgess succeeds in proving the premise that opposing realities can both be true. It’s a wonderful work, and I would sit through it again with pleasure.

This production by Geffen Playhouse Gil Cates Theater was on April 18, 2019.

Plays through May 12, 2019
The Niceties Geffen

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