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Bad Girls

Despite Joyce Carol Oates' new play, "Bad Girls," being predictable and cliched, it might have worked had the production been a powerhouse. Unfortunately, the New York premiere, directed by Susana Tubert, is flabby and unconvincing. Not only are the characters uninvolving, they're unbelievable. The acting consists of posing, not heartfelt reactions.

It isn't until the last 16 minutes of this 68-minute play that the events on stage quicken the pulse, as a result of shocking and gratuitous violence. At that point, however, the play is basically over, as it has nowhere to go.

Adapted from her short story of the same name, Oates' "Bad Girls" concerns a single parent looking for love and her three teenage daughters, who sabotage her affairs in order to keep her to themselves. The dialogue is real, but we've heard it all before, and there are no quirky details that might make this an unfamiliar retelling. The play suggests that Marietta (Deborah LaCoy) is not a very good mother, but Oates never has the courage to go either way. As the daughters, Merritt Wever, Sarah Hyland, and Anastasia Webb seem more exasperated with the state of things than driven over the edge.

Ironically, David Sims Bishins as the mother's new boyfriend rises above the mediocrity of the rest of the production. His acting offers an authority that reveals more than the writing does. Wever is best as the play's narrator, but this material ought to have been dramatized, not told to us. As the truly rebellious daughter, Webb poses in her leather jacket, leaving us to fill in the gaps. Hyland, as the youngest daughter, is simply not given much to do. The orange-and-black-tiger designer wallpaper for Lauren Helpern's set doesn't add appreciably to the mood.

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