Anthony (Jacob A. Ware) is a writer with a problem. He’s dreamed up a powerful story about a Muslim girl who survives horrific abuse by her father. The only thing is, the story would be much more marketable if it were, you know, true.
Enter Nita (Layla Khoshnoudi), the young, unsophisticated daughter of a woman Anthony has been helping in his day job as a social worker. Nita agrees to pretend she’s Currah, the girl in Anthony’s story, and together, they attract the interest of the Devil … in the form of cynical, high-powered book agent Ronnie (Judith Hawking), abetted by her painfully hip assistant Tyrell (Gregory Haney).
That’s the basic premise of “Nobody’s Girl,” a comedy by Australian playwright Rick Viede that is having its U.S. premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Sept. 20. It’s a timely story, in the era of Jayson Blair and Brian Williams and Rolling Stone’s University of Virginia gang rape story. And as you would imagine from the way these real-life scandals played out, Anthony and Nita are in for a rocky ride once his sensationalistic book, “Nobody’s Girl,” is published, and Nita has to convince her adoring public that she’s really the plucky, outspoken Currah, and not just a lost soul given an incredible opportunity.
Both Ware and Khoshnoudi are fine, but Hawking and Haney have the juicier roles, and make the most of them. Hawking, excellent at NJ Rep earlier this year as ambassador Pamela Harriman in “Swimming at the Ritz,” is especially good at projecting oily charm as Ronnie shamelessly manipulates the other characters. And Haney’s Tyrell is a unique creation: a smooth-talking con man masquerading as a trendy club kid.
I had some problems with the second of the two acts. There are lots of shifts in the relationships among the characters, and in the power that each one wields, but these changes sometimes don’t make much sense, and happen so abruptly they don’t feel believable. (There were some outlandish developments in the first act, too, but the slower pace, and the opportunity to see characters struggle with their decisions rather than just make them, made them easier to swallow.)
Still, there’s lots of effective dark humor here, and some laugh-out-loud lines (mostly delivered by Hawking). And “Nobody’s Girl” will make you think about an ancient topic — the consequences of lying — in a new way. For now that a really well told lie can make you world-famous almost immediately, the temptation, and the risk, have never been higher.
“Nobody’s Girl” is at NJ Rep in Long Branch through Sept. 20. For information, visit njrep.org.