FORBIDDEN SEX, FERAL MEDIA: AN AUSSIE PLAYWRIGHT, ON WHY AMERICANS LOVE OUR NASTY STORIES

NG1 COLOR(L-R): Layla Khoshnoudi, Jacob A. Ware, Judith Hawking and Gregory Haney star in “Nobody’s Girl,” the dark comedy that makes its American debut this weekend at New Jersey Repertory in Long Branch.   Photo by SUZANNE BARABAS

It takes place in a world pretty much like our own; one where a shocking account of the most unspeakable sexual scandal hijacks the 24-7 news cycle — and where the whole thing threatens to come crashing down, when the “victim” in the story departs from the standard script.

If playwright Rick Viede has learned one thing in the three years since moving to the U.S. from his native Australia, it’s that America’s celebrity-obsessed, conflict-crazed media culture is even more “ridiculous” and “feral” than the one he left behind — no mean feat for the land that gave us Rupert Murdoch. The realization that “the temptation is always there to twist the volume way up” inspired Viede to revisit his play “Nobody’s Girl;” a “dark comedy” that makes its Stateside premiere this weekend at the Jersey Shore’s edgy-play incubator, New Jersey Repertory Company.

According to the playwright, it’s a “completely reinvented and improved” version of the show (formerly titled “A Hoax”) that makes its bow on the Long Branch stage this weekend, under director and fight choreographer Erica Gould — one that asks “why do we want stories to be as negative as possible…and why do we look to shoot people down with sanctimonious retribution, after they’ve delivered just what the market wanted?” Where the original production centered on a young Aboriginal woman, here the action swirls around a “dirty, gripping, salacious tell-all” book, ostensibly authored by a Muslim-American girl (Layla Khoshnoudi) who’s got a stop-the-presses story of sexual abuse to share.

Of course, the behind-the-scenes presence of a frustrated writer named Anthony (Jacob A. Ware) serves to complicate the situation — and when high-octane agent/ guru Ronnie (Judith Hawking, star of NJ Rep’s “Swimming at the Ritz”) gets her hands on the manuscript, whatever kernel of truth existed threatens to be blown into “A Million Little Pieces” (to borrow the title of a best-selling hoax “memoir” that proved inspirational to the playwright). Gregory Haney completes the cast as Ronnie’s “very camp” assistant Tyrell; a character described by his creator as “bordering transgender…almost gender-fluid.”

“This play pulls no punches…as a satire of modern media, and the darkest of dark comedies, it actually speaks to the truth,” says the author who found the arts scene in his native land “suffocating” versus his adopted New York City home. “And New Jersey Rep has been an absolute dream to work with…while my work has often been diluted by other companies, they’ve really embraced my voice here.”

Opening at 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 22, “Nobody’s Girl” runs Thursdays through Sundays until September 20. Full schedule details and ticket reservations ($45) are available by calling (732)229-3166 or visiting njrep.org.

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