Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of MTC's THE NICETIES?
Manhattan Theatre Club's New York premiere of The Niceties, written by Eleanor Burgess and directed by Kimberly Senior (Disgraced), opened last night, October 25, at The Studio at Stage II - Harold and Mimi Steinberg New Play Series at New York City Center (131 W. 55th Street).
At an elite East Coast university, an ambitious young black student and her esteemed white professor meet to discuss a paper the college junior is writing about the American Revolution. They're both liberal. They're both women. They're both brilliant. But very quickly, discussions of grammar and Google turn to race and reputation, and before they know it, they're in dangerous territory neither of them had foreseen - and facing stunning implications that can't be undone. Written with powerful truth and humor by Eleanor Burgess, this deeply resonant work is directed by Kimberly Senior (Disgraced). The Washington Post hails it as "a barnstormer of a play," adding that it's "one of the best plays I've seen about who gets to tell the story of America, and how."
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Laura Collins-Hughes, The New York Times: Directed by Kimberly Senior ("Disgraced") for Manhattan Theater Club, "The Niceties" is a bristling, provocative debate play about race and privilege in the United States, and it begs to be argued with - partly because Ms. Burgess has manipulated the contest in ways that feel unnecessary.
But it is also a drama about the destructiveness of internecine fighting. Set in spring 2016, during the presidential primary campaign, it pits a pair of progressive women - a black millennial and a white baby boomer - against each other, even as Donald Trump gets ever closer to the White House.
Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Giving equal weighting to Janine and Zoe is the play's great strength, and also a kind of cop-out. The audience is left thinking the impossible must be made possible; that two incontrovertibly opposing viewpoints and philosophies can share space in the ivory tower.
Of course they cannot, both cannot be right and still survive, and the most tantalizing thing about The Niceties is the questions that occur to you throughout the women's dazzling combat: How will this end? How can it end? Those questions are not just restricted to the characters on stage, but all of us.
Marc Miller, Talkin' Broadway: Kimberly Senior's direction has some fine touches, like the way Zoe ends up sitting in Janine's chair later in the proceedings, a subtle illustration of an evolving transfer of power. But the three-sided seating area in Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II is a little awkward, and no matter where you sit, you'll miss some important character reactions. Senior, further, might have toned down Boatman's volume and hysteria to bring a more equal weight to both arguments. Zoe is a brilliant and passionate young woman, battling an inequitable society and likely to coax much-needed change out of institutions that highly resist it. But in Boatman's caterwauling, and in Burgess' constant pitting of Janine's measured responses against Zoe's unhinged fury, The Niceties isn't doing the disenfranchised viewpoint any favors.
Donna Herman, New York Theatre Guide: The Niceties crackles and sparks with friction. Burgess' characters are drawn with precision and her dialogue is expertly crafted to keep both the tension and the attention high. Director Kimberly Senior keeps the pace crisp and the focus where it needs to be in the ping pong game between professor and student. Jordan Boatman is absolutely magnificent as the pushed-to-the-limit student Zoe. We can see her keen intelligence, and the unknowing jabs that she tries not to feel or respond to. And we can feel her pain when told she has to get over being angry about slavery and she finally snaps and says "I'm so tired of remembering for both of us. This should be a pain that we share. I have been carrying all of this around on my own. I have been carrying your share of history, as well as mine, and I need you to take your half. I can't carry it all anymore. I will get exhausted and go crazy, I will have no joy-."