Oh, the mindgames schoolteachers play. Lauding Fascists and ignoring mathematics, the dangerous Scottish molder of impressionable female minds returns to the New York stage in the New Group’s production of Jay Presson Allen’s compelling drama, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. As the spinster schoolmarm bent on devoting herself to the development and cruel manipulation of carefully chosen students, a slightly miscast but admirably committed Cynthia Nixon wears her brightly colored frocks with pride. Her Brodie is appropriately vivacious but, regrettably, the insidiously calculating element of the character comes more from her lines than her performance. While Nixon delivers Miss Brodie’s stormy speeches with aplomb, her innocent, beautiful face and upright mien seem to thwart rather than intensify the terrifying aspect of her character’s ulterior motives.
Although the waning of Miss Brodie’s self-described “prime” offers the play’s star the chance to scintillate, the standout performance comes from Zoe Kazan as Sandy, Brodie’s most “dependable” student. 23-year-old Kazan plays ten-year-old Sandy with such skill that it’s shocking when she reveals her womanly curves in the scene where she poses nude for the philandering Brodie-obsessed art master Teddy Lloyd.
At times, the show seems to drag — particularly in the uneven culmination of the much longer second act — and the majority of the otherwise fine cast members struggle to maintain their Scottish brogues (most notably, Nixon). Despite these distractions, the show’s twisting plot and layered characters remain intriguing. They make a strong case for home schooling, too.