Rinne Groff’s satiric comedy, set in money-grubbing Manhattan during the go-go ’80s, shows wit in placing a deprived Slavic teen in the household of an acquisitive young couple as nanny to their adolescent daughter and infant son. Having set up the dynamic for a comic clash of values, however, scribe fails to follow through. Bizarre events unfold without a coherent plot and characters remain as they are, clutching onto their selfish notions of happiness in a materialistic social climate. Glossy production, helmed by Loretta Greco for the Women’s Project, lends a thin veneer of substance to an essentially shallow undertaking.
Title character is a skinny, needy girl from some unidentified Baltic country who has landed on the alien shores of Manhattan in 1986 with a shaky grasp of English and no sense of the local customs or mores. What Inky does have is a singular devotion to Muhammad Ali and a firm belief that the boxing champ is “the greatest.” She has his fancy footwork down cold and has all but memorized his poetic incantations to the press.
Making her New York debut in the role, Jessi Campbell gives this waif an appropriate measure of vulnerability while shrewdly adding a feral quality that gives this wild child a faint air of menace. In the young thesp’s unsmiling perf, Inky’s first lines — “I will kill him; I will tear his arm off” — don’t sound entirely innocent.
Inky has been hired as a nanny by Barbara and Greg, a couple of greedy go-getters whose own heroes run to corporate crooks like Ivan Boesky, the financier who famously declared, “Greed is healthy” and “You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.”
Following that dictum, Greg feels anxiety but no real compunction about robbing his investment clients blind. Barbara claims to have more scruples, but when Greg waves a fistful of $100 bills in her face, she turns into a ferocious sex tiger and practically rapes him on the rug of their all-white apartment. (Credit Robert Brill for the snide design of this soulless urban setting.)
Marianne Hagan and Jason Pugatch turn in solid perfs, but Barbara and Greg are such hateful characters, it’s impossible to care what, if anything, they learn from their exposure to their unorthodox nanny.
For her part, Inky interprets her custodial chores rather broadly, seducing sex-starved Greg, ignoring the couple’s screaming infant, teaching their pre-teen daughter how to fight and turning the sale of Girl Scout cookies into a lucrative racket.
“I give help” is how this nanny from hell explains her actions.
Groff’s thesis, of course, is that within the social context of the times, Inky’s behavior is neither unethical nor immoral, merely appropriate to prevailing cultural values. It’s a valid argument, but aside from stating and restating the obvious, scribe has failed to make that grim reality the least bit amusing.