theater (reviews)

review: boy gets girl

[originally reviewed: http://aislesay.com/CHI-BOY-GETS.html]

BOY GETS GIRL

by Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Steve Scott
Eclipse Theatre Company at Victory Gardens Greenhouse
2257 N. Lincoln Avenue / (773) 871-3000
www.eclipsetheatre.com
Through December 17, 2006

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 5, 2006

Eclipse Theatre continues its Rebecca Gilman season with her play “Boy Gets Girl“, slightly revised since its premiere at the Goodman Theatre in 2000. This is a version of the “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl” story that involves a unique combination of friendship, stalking, pornography as an artistic homage to women, and a woman finding her voice. In the 2000 version of this play the central character is resolved yet fearful at the play’s end. In this version, the central character resents her need to make changes in her life to protect herself from a crazy person, but she is not in the end fearful. A nuanced distinction, and a measure of the evolving artistry of the playwright Rebecca Gilman.

We first encounter our hero, journalist Theresa (Michelle Courvais) on a blind date at a restaurant with someone known vaguely by a friend of hers. Tony (Scott Stangland) is good-looking and polite, yet almost immediately oddly persistent with detailed personal questions. Theresa is clearly not practiced at dating, works hard, has some brittle edges yet is smart and funny and takes us along on a ride of slight attraction to this man who pays her so much attention. An audience member will feel vague twinges of discomfort at the dynamics of their conversation — Tony almost always asks one or two too many follow-up questions when she clearly wants to change the subject. We also note that Theresa is not picking up on the clues in their interactions, despite the fact that she is journalist who interviews and observed for a living. In scene one, he presses for details; scene two, sends flowers and calls in ensuing days (and we wonder why she is not picking up); by scene three when they are together again, he asks at one point, oddly, “Are you like a feminist?” which is a laugh line for the audience and yet, he is insistent and oddly intense with this question, and the laugher dies out quickly. That could define the sequence of events: the laughter dies out quickly. By scene four, when Tony shows up for the first time at her office in pursuit when she has not replied to his phone calls and presents, after a time period of only a few days has passed, we hear Theresa say “no” for the first time. The balance of the play is coming to terms with the potential threat Tony represents, and attempting to develop next steps in life, in love, in career.

The action of the play is propelled through scenes at Theresa’s office with her peer Mercer (Nathaniel Swift), her boss Howard (Gary Simmers), and her new young assistant Harriet (Shannon Altland). As part of Theresa’s journey, she has been asked by her boss Howard to interview a B-movie soft porn director named Les Kennkat (played movingly by Len Bajenski). Theresa may or may not have been able to see Les’s gentle nature at another time of her life. As it is, in the context of being pursued by a potentially dangerous stalker, she has no patience for Les’s choice of material (big breasted women) nor does she “read” his movies as the honest celebration of the objects of his adoration for what they are. He claims “my movies celebrate women” and she doesn’t hear him at all. Eventually she does hear him, and his statement that “I’m not talented, I’m not smart, I’m just fearless.” Toward the end of the first act, Theresa is reduced in her apartment to a wordless fearful ball (arms around her legs, sitting on her bed, making herself into a small ball, clutching a large kitchen knife, closing curtains and turning off her cell phone and land line. We think to ourselves “he’s got her”. It is terrifying. And yet, she moves from this point to a position of strength and resolution. She too becomes fearless.

No one character is overtly cruel or manipulative, yet each illustrates how the cumulative effect of little social misunderstandings and unwillingness to listen and heed another’s states wishes can exacerbate this kind of social menace. Mercer ignores the fact that Theresa might be emotionally abused by his idea to write about stalking; Harriet is oblivious to the effects of ignoring Theresa’s explicit requests to not talk to her stalker and not accept his presents. Theresa’s boss Howard is the big softy Mensch who cares for Theresa, provides a brotherly shoulder for her to cry and sleep on during her time of crisis, and helps her to think through her next steps. Policewoman Madeline Beck (Cece Klinger) is unerringly straight with Theresa about what to expect, about how to protect herself. And in the end Theresa makes some decisions for herself, with some help from her friends. This play is both a commentary on the relationships between men and women and a commentary on the role of violence in our society. Theresa is a woman first, reacting to the men and challenges around her, then she is a journalist, then she is just a person. And through the events of the play, Theresa is able to “be” each of these roles both poorly and successfully. It is all about violence against women, and it’s not about that at all. And this acting ensemble gets this and conveys this with pitch perfect precision.

Once again, Eclipse Theatre has managed to evoke masterful set details (credit scenic designer Kevin Hagan and lighting designer Chris Corwin) in the smallest upstairs performance space at Victory Gardens Greenhouse. In a tiny performance space, the designer has managed to evoke a working office, an efficiency apartment, and several down stage playing locations for intimate conversations. Sound design by Cecil Averett begins with a lonely jazzy trumpet to set the tone (the tune could be “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” or something equally yearning) and provides loving connecting musical thoughts between scenes and in the background. And all smoothly orchestrated by director Steve Scott.

This production is just the most recent of a fabulous season of Gilman works artfully and sensitively presented by Eclipse Theatre. Do not miss this.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 5, 2006)

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