Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Boy Gets Girl (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

It sounds like the plot of a Lifetime movie. Here's the publicity blurb for Theater Unleashed's production of Boy Gets Girl by Rebecca Gilman:

What started as an innocent blind date has quickly turned into a dangerous obsession. For Theresa, an accomplished journalist, her life is now spiraling chaotically out of control as she experiences a violent terror that’s all too familiar.

Had I been unfamiliar with TU, the blurb alone would not have been enough. It does seem to echo what a friend of mine calls "victim porn" wherein some innocent is targeted by a psycho and finally ends up killing said psycho in self-defense. Slasher films lite.

Such was far from what I got when the lights came up on stage.

Instead, an awkward blind date begins. One that might just have been an opening scene in a romantic comedy. At the time I managed to think that very clever. It made me share the bewildering flesh-crawl as events unfolded--as Theresa (Ivy Khan) clearly felt no connection with Tony (Jim Martyka), sought to let  him down politely, then found herself the target of a stalker. 

Later, I realized how profound that delicate trick the playwright had pulled off. She did more than make us feel viscerally surprised at the plot. She invoked the exact memes and ideas that feed the horror of events.

She made us Tony's accomplices. His attempts to connect with Theresa at first seem harmless, a bit awkward, obnoxious the way deeply lonely folks sometimes are. We almost wish Theresa would give him a second chance. Certainly we understand why some others do--even though the guy rings warning bells of many tones and volume, even at first. An emotional piece of judo that has left me very impressed!

The script also never, ever slips into stereotype, even while the essential plot of a stalker plays out as we've come to seemingly expect. The constant flowers delivered, the endless voice mails, the escalation to threats, the calling the police (Kate Dyler) and so on. Instead of formula, however, the whole thing feels utterly real--not least because the range of humanity remains naturalistic and (even more importantly) individual. Theresa is never an ingenue nor does she ever become an action heroine. Likewise, none of the men in her life are heroes. They are friends, to be sure.
Her boss Howard (Bobby McGlynn), fellow writer Mercer (Eric Stachura), the subject of an article she's writing (Eric Cire)--all offer support. None can solve her problem. No one can "solve" it unless her stalker makes a mistake and is caught. Every single one of them try, though. More, they don't simply offer help. They also cross lines, make mistakes, sometimes fail to understand--and when a couple of them begin to really understand, that creeps them out most of all. Because they seem themselves in Tony!

And if we're brutally honest, so can we. In part because the writer led us to that point, but also because the cast did such a splendid job overall (although the lion's share of praise goes of Khan as Theresa).

That a fair amount of comedy pops up in the play also makes the grinding psychological tension (like a death of a thousand cuts) both more palatable as well as more chilling--because Theresa's plight never lets up. Even the most overtly funny character, Harriet (Sammi Lappin) in the end is just another match lit against the encroaching darkness. Because real life doesn't always have a happy ending. Sometimes the bad guy gets away. The only way to survive is total retreat and surrender. Sometimes. No matter what we want, or how unfair all that seems.

Such is the very unpalatable, powerful truth this production gives us. In a way, Theresa suffers worse than physical violence. She comes to see herself as nothing but a thing, an object of desire as opposed to a mind or soul.

Worse, she cannot forget that for some--even those not violent, not insane, not obsessed--that is all she will ever be. All she can be.

(I will admit though the scene shifts seemed to take forever...!)

Boy Gets Girl plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm at the Belfry Stage (upstairs from the Crown Theatre) 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, CA 91602.  Tickets are $20. You can make reservations by calling (818) 849-4039 or emailing reservations@theatreunleashed.org.

No comments: