Terrific performances by a thoroughly engaging Ivy Khan and a riveting if miscast Jim Martyka highlight Theatre Unleashed’s ill-advised fifteenth-anniversary revival of Rebecca Gilman’s Boy Gets Girl, one which leaves this reviewer wondering how Gilman’s pseudo-thriller ended up named Time Magazine’s #1 Play Of The Year.
The setup is a great one. 30something Tony (Martyka) makes a good enough first impression on blind date Theresa (Khan) that the slightly younger New York City magazine writer agrees almost instantly to a Saturday dinner, only to have second thoughts once they’ve gotten past initial niceties.
Theresa might overlook Tony’s suggestion she could do with an extra pound or two but when he says he’s heard it said that men who go out with older women do so because they “really want to have sex with their mothers”, well, that sends up enough of a red flag that Theresa begins to regret her impulsive “Yes” to a second date.
Things get even more uncomfortable over dinner on Saturday, and Theresa makes excuses, not just for an early departure, but for turning down date number three, claiming to be too consumed with her career to be seeing anyone seriously.
Tony’s not one to take no for an answer, however, and before long he’s sending Theresa flowers at work and showing up uninvited at her office in search of that illusive third date. Unwilling to take no for an answer, he starts filling her voice mail with increasingly hostile messages, stalking her apartment, and worse.
Anyone who’s viewed any of the Lifetime Television For Woman movies Theresa eventually finds herself watching as “research” can see the direction Boy Gets Girl seems to be heading, and playwright Gilman does indeed give her heroine that Lifetime-ready damsel-in-distress alone-in-her-apartment late-at-night with-only-a-kitchen-knife-to-protect-her scene we’ve been waiting for.
Unfortunately for anyone expecting post-intermission Fatal Attraction thrills and chills (which is what you have every right to expect from an “all-too-real thriller”), what Boy Gets Girl gives us in its second act is a whole lot of gender-politics palaver that goes on and on even as our hopes of seeing Tony show up to give-Theresa-a-reason-to-use-that-knife fade minute by minute.
At least Gilman has offered an explanation for Tony’s extended second-act absence. “I felt that Tony would become scarier if we didn’t see him,” she has stated. “So if he was somehow out there, our imagination of him and of what he had become would be a lot scarier than the reality of him,” but director Jacob Smith ignores the playwright’s wishes by having Tony return for a “bonus” scene that Gilman wants us only to imagine.
Then again, Smith hasn’t cast Tony per the playwright’s instructions either.
For Act One to work, Tony’s mental instability ought to catch us as every bit as off guard as it does Theresa, and Gelman’s script clearly specifies a leading man type rather than the more instantly suspect “heavy” we get with an otherwise excellent Martyka. To make matters worse, Smith has Tony onstage from the moment we enter the theater, giving us ample opportunity to decide for ourselves long before Theresa that this guy has got issues … and then some.
In other words, a Ryan Reynolds/Ashton Kutcher-turned-psycho is a lot more interesting than a Michael Chiklis type (albeit in younger and slimmer form) who’s scary from the get-go.
With the exception of a pitch-perfect Khan, whose natural, in-the-moment performance makes this Boy Gets Girl work as well as it does, other casting choices prove problematic as well, so much so that Theatre Unleashed might have thought twice about picking a play in which several key characters are decades older than the company’s mostly quite young members.
The role of 70ish big-bosom-loving cult moviemaker Les Kenkat requires an actor who can at least pass for 60, and good as Eric Cire is in the role, he’s got another twenty to thirty years before he’s right to play Les in a professional production.
The same can be said for a committed Kate Dyler’s supposedly been-there, done-that Detective Beck, who looks barely out of college here. (Gilman specifies mid-40s and a couple more decades of life experience for the actress playing the part.)
Younger doesn’t necessarily not work for Theresa’s presumably 50something editor Howard, and Bobby McGlynn has some very good moments in the role, particularly in scenes opposite Khan, but the age-appropriate Eric Stachura needs more spontaneity and shadings to bring authentic life to Theresa’s coworker Mercer, and McGlynn and Stachura are saddled with one of Boy Gets Girl’s more improbable conversations. (Having just discovered their stalker-pursued colleague’s apartment ransacked by an obvious nut case, Mercer picks this moment to reveal that soon after his arrival at the magazine, he “just looked at [Theresa] and thought, ‘I want to fuck you.’”) Say what?
Another factor that might have given Theatre Unleashed pause are the logistical requirements of a play which requires alternating six different sets over a dozen and a half scenes. The matchbox-sized Belfry stage doesn’t allow for more than one at a time (at least as designed by director Smith), which means that cast members must emerge from backstage during each and every “blackout” to move furniture and props here and there and back again a grand total of about eighteen times. (Did I mention that Boy Gets Girl runs well over two and a half hours?)
Since obviously none of this can be accomplished in complete darkness, audiences must sit through cleanup of a trashed apartment and later awkwardly watch a post-op Les Kenkat get into his wheelchair and then hop back out of it to make his exit once his hospital scene is up.
It’s easy to see why Theatre Unleashed might have been attracted to a play in which gender roles are seen through multiple eyes (though from a primarily feminist point of view), and Mercer’s theory of how movie romcoms might make someone like Tony believe that his persistence could actually pay off proves among the most interesting of the bunch, or would if Gilman’s characters spoke more like real people.
Scenic designer Smith and scenic painter Ann Hurd have given Boy Gets Girl a spiffy red-brick backdrop and his sound design is a terrific mix of late 1990s indie-alternative hits. Cameron Stark’s costumes are the production’s top design element, especially as lit by Gregory Crafts. Liz Fenning’s makeup design is topnotch.
Sark is stage manager, Erin Scott is production manager, and Mark Bell is technical director. S. Elliott Crowley is dramaturg.
Having recently raved about this past winter’s Ligature Marks, and having heard great things about Gilman’s much-acclaimed Boy Gets Girl, I was eager to see the latest from Theatre Unleashed.
The Belfry Stage, Upstairs at the Crown, 11031 Camarillo St.. North Hollywood.
April 27, 2105
Photos: Jase Photos