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Boy Gets Girl

Also see Sharon's review of Dogs Barking

Just as there are "date movies," there are "date plays." Rebecca Gilman's Boy Gets Girl is not one of them. This tale of a smart, together woman whose life is thrown into chaos by a blind date with the wrong guy is not the sort of thing that makes you believe in the power of fairy tale romance. Instead, it makes you question everything about the way men and women traditionally interact.

Boy Gets Girl
James Farentino (Les) and
Nancy Travis (Theresa)

The play opens with the blind date - a meeting for drinks. Nancy Travis plays Theresa as someone who knows how the dating scene works. She's a complex person with a layered personality and is very careful about what she lets this stranger see. Tony, played by Mark Deakins, is simply awkward. Tony is not as intellectual as Theresa, and he shyly admits his lack of sophistication. There is absolutely no chemistry between them; Theresa sees this quickly and finds herself frequently taking swigs from her drink, both to cover conversational silences and to give herself an opening for a quick exit. The audience knows that Tony is eventually going to turn out to be a stalker, so laughs at every line that could theoretically be interpreted as a clue that there's something really wrong with him. But the truth is, everything he says can simply be chalked up to first-date skittishness. And when Tony, perhaps a little too early in their conversation, suggests a dinner date that weekend, Theresa agrees, probably out of politeness more than any real belief Tony will turn out to be "the one."

Is it politeness? What makes Theresa agree to date Tony when she clearly recognizes there will be nothing between them? Is it pity? Is it loneliness? And when he later asks for her home address and phone number, she turns him down, but not firmly and absolutely. Why not? When she meets him for dinner, she finally decides she should not be there with him and she stands to leave. He starts feeling sorry for himself and she stays a little longer. Why? What is it about Theresa that makes her unable to reject this guy? Why does she feel obligated to give him the, "It's not you; it's me" speech, when what she really means is, "It's you"? Boy Gets Girl is only partially interested in the stalking itself; it is even more concerned with the way women have been socialized to act and, in particular, by the way the dating relationship is usually portrayed.

This aspect of the play is effective and thought-provoking, at least when considering things from Theresa's point of view. It is less effective when we are thinking about what motivates Tony. Tony's stalking behavior escalates remarkably quickly - the play concedes that he moves fast even by stalker standards - and it is hard to believe anything is motivating his behavior other than simple insanity. It is all well and good to abstractly consider whether sending a woman unwanted flowers might just be a misguided attempt at old-fashioned wooing, but filling Theresa's voice mail with obscene threatening messages isn't a misinterpretation of how to win over a reluctant girlfriend, it's just plain nuts.

When the play isn't tied up with considering traditional gender roles in discussions that are almost cold in their academic intellectualism, it is getting down to the basics of what happens to a woman when she's stalked. It isn't just about the fear and the way she must change her everyday behavior in order to avoid the stalker; it's about the way being stalked affects her ability to interact with other people in her life. Once Theresa becomes a victim of stalking, everyone in her life is now defined by gender, and Theresa (and the audience through her) looks at everyone not as "friend" or "co-worker," but as "man" or "woman" whose motives are now reevaluated through the prism of possible unwanted attention.

The play has a lot of interesting ideas and concepts going for it, but, as of opening night, the show didn't seem at full power yet. Nearly every performer stumbled over a line or two; Charles Janasz, as Theresa's boss, overplayed his fright in one scene, and Theresa's coworker Mercer (Taylor Nichols) had some lines that just didn't sound realistic for his character. Travis is completely believable as strong, unsuspecting Theresa and equally believable when she is weakened by what Tony has done to her, but her final scene didn't play entirely convincingly. The most entertaining performance in the show comes from James Farentino as Les Kennkat, a movie director Theresa has to interview. Kennkat is a polyester-wearing, belt-adjusting, unrepentant "breast-man." While Theresa might have originally disregarded Kennkat as a simple purveyor of smut, his contributions to popular culture take on a greater significance once Tony begins stalking her. Farentino is hilarious as a guy who, meaning no disrespect, just loves the female form. But he's also convincing when he finds himself defending his life and life's work against Theresa's born-again feminist attack.

Boy Gets Girl is a good, thought-provoking play with occasional creepy moments. It isn't a perfect production, but it is certainly good enough to make you take that personal ad off the Internet.

Boy Gets Girl continues at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood through May 11, 2003. www.geffenplayhouse.com or (310) 208-5454.

Geffen Playhouse - Gilbert Cates, Producing Director; Randall Arney, Artistic Director; Stephen Eich, Managing Director - presents Boy Gets Girl by Rebecca Gilman. Scenery by Andrew Jackness; Costumes by Christina Haatainen Jones; Lighting by Daniel Ionazzi; Sound/Original Music by Richard Woodbury; Production Stage Manager Elizabeth A. Brohm; Dramaturg Amy Levinson Millan; Casting by Lisa Zarowin, CSA. Directed by Randall Arney.

Cast:
Tony - Mark Deakins
Theresa Bedell - Nancy Travis
Howard Siegel - Charles Janasz
Mercer Stevens - Taylor Nichols
Harriet - Julie Ann Emery
Les Kennkat - James Farentino
Madeleine Beck - Monnae Michaell

Photo by Ken Howard


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-
Sharon Perlmutter




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