If "Boy Gets Girl" is the conventional formula for a romantic happy ending, then this play drips with the bitter irony of its antithesis. Rebecca Gilman takes the familiar, lightly comic situation of modern dating and devolves it from a trivial mismatch into a nightmare of fear, degradation and injustice at the hands of a stalker. It's an issue play, exploring the phenomena of stalking from its sociological, legal and ethical dimensions, and at times is a bit too overt in its essaying and argumentation. What makes it compelling drama, however, is the way it personalizes those issues. In particular, watching Theresa, played with intelligence and vulnerability by Liz McCarthy, as she endures the disintegration of her life, her career, her sense of personal safety, and her relationships we are both outraged and deeply sympathetic.
The opening scene, a blind-date between Theresa and Tony, (Joe Hickey) a somewhat insecure, nice-enough man, is a skillfully observed piece of writing, capturing the false moves, triviality, discomfort and pointlessness that makes the dating game so discouraging and inherently absurd. When Theresa tells Tony that she really needs to go, her reluctance to be too blunt leaves just enough ambiguity to give him hope, and he pursues that with flowers to her office the next day, and presumptions that further contacts will follow. When she is more emphatic, he becomes more angry, and with each new degree of anger, more insistent. Mr. Hickey does a nice job of creating a dangerously unstable character without making him a psychopathic villain (at least through the first act). His work is particularly important because he doesn't appear at all in the second act, so it is only his unseen presence, and what we can infer about his progressive deterioration, that provides the threat.
The play wants to make some broader arguments about the nature of male-female power relationships, and about the inherent violence of men. Those notions are presented primarily through the characters of Howard (R. Hamilton Wright) and Mercer (David Scully), two of Theresa's colleagues at the New York magazine where she works. The roles are well-played, with Mr. Scully particularly compelling, but the arguments seem rather shallow and inadequately explored. The same is true for a sweetly naïve office assistant, brightly played by Cleopatra Bertelsen. Whatever points were intended in expressing willing complicity and superficial sexual appeal simply didn't amount to much.
Far more interesting is the character of Les Kennkat, a broken-down, unrepentant soft-core film maker that Theresa interviews for a magazine profile. Stephen Payne builds the role with such interesting contradiction, such subtle malignancy wrapped in a veneer of rapscallion charm that he threatens to take over the show. More importantly, he makes a persuasive case that questions of gender power, and their complex interplay in the relationships between any two people are constantly shifting and as much about the individuals as about social or behavioral forces.
When Mercer and Howard read a vile and threatening note that Tony sent to Theresa, the disgusting message is followed by Mercer questioning whether crude sexual thoughts he's had about women, but not acted on, were the same thing. But thought is not threat, and the argument is weak and insubstantial. By the same token, when Les Kennkat makes it unabashedly obvious that he sees women as body parts, it is simultaneously repellent and intriguing to Theresa. It's a posture being responded to by an attitude. That's interesting.
Director Roberta Levitow is especially effective in paralleling the impotence of the legal and social system with the sexual rage of the stalker. As a veteran policewoman, Joanne Klein was authoritative and frustrating, like the legal protection itself. The play has a most unsatisfying resolution, with Theresa simply abandoning her life and running away, in hopes of finding safety in hiding. That, in addition to never having Tony return for a final confrontation (a considered dramatic decision which may be smart, but not wise) left the destination more about acquiescence than resolution. Solid acting and confident directing made the drama feel more complete than the play's text. Notable was the beautiful and ingenious set, by James Noone. With its reflective surfaces, sliding platforms and telescoping depth, it gave the action a fluidity and motion sometimes lacking in the script itself. "Boy Gets Girl" is an intriguing and harrowing encounter with how ugly relationships, even slight ones, can become. It is also an engaging examination of how little success and social position can protect a woman from a threatening man. It's hardly a pleasant evening, even with a surprising number of good laughs in the first act, but it is an honest and compelling drama. At this point in our culture the most familiar happy ending for romance seems to be not "boy gets girl", but rather, "to be continued".
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