Anchored by a solid leading performance, and enlivened by a teetering-on-the-edge supporting performance, Theatre Unleashed’s production of Rebecca Gilman’s Boy Gets Girl brings a bit of a chill to hot nights in North Hollywood.
Ivy Khan. Photo: Alice Reyes Photography
As the audience seats itself in the tiny space, Tony (Jim Martyka) also seats himself at a table onstage. He’s drinking a beer, but fidgeting, constantly checking his watch, looking around nervously. As the lights go down, we see why: he’s been waiting for Theresa (Ivy Khan) to show up, and their meeting is a blind date arranged by a mutual acquaintance.
Blind dates are awkward by nature, and perhaps this one is a little more awkward than most – gee, he has a lot of restless energy, doesn’t he! – but they both seem like nice people, and after a beer (she only promised to meet for one beer, in case things didn’t work out) Theresa excuses herself to head home, but agrees to have dinner with Tony a few nights later. Great!
Next day at the office of the magazine where she works, Theresa finds a huge bouquet of flowers from Tony, which earns her a certain amount of ribbing from her editor Howard (Bobby McGlynn) and newish staff writer Mercer (Eric Stachura). Her ditsy assistant Harriet (Sammi Lappin) is thrilled, but Theresa just finds it strange: she only had a beer with the guy, for God’s sake.
Eric Stachura and Ivy Khan. Photo: Alice Reyes Photography
Well, to make a long story short, the dinner doesn’t go well, and when Theresa tells Tony she’s not interested in seeing him again, he has a minor meltdown. Which leads to major meltdowns as time goes on. For, you see, Tony is a total whack-job, and not in an amusing way. Whatever the source of his problems, something in Theresa has set him off, and he becomes obsessed with her, sending her flowers, calling her at all hours of the day and night, following her, spying on her in her home. Tony is a stalker, and while he hasn’t touched Theresa – yet – his messages become more and more threatening.
Eric Cire and Ivy Khan. Photo: Alice Reyes Photography
Theresa keeps working – interviewing sleazy porno film auteur Les Kennkat (Eric Cire) – but her conversations with Detective Beck (Kate Dyler) about the potential threat from Tony become more ominous. When Theresa confronts the experienced detective about what might happen, the cop murmurs “You don’t want to know.”
Kate Dyler and Ivy Khan. Photo: Alice Reyes Photography
So in Act 2, we’re prepared for a showdown – perhaps a literal stalking, a la Wait Until Dark? – or maybe a climactic duel a deux between Tony and Theresa? After all, at one point, Theresa has hidden a knife under a sofa cushion, and in another scene she notes approvingly the heroine’s shooting her stalker in the face in a Lifetime movie.
But Ms Gilman will have none of that. Instead, Act 2 becomes a seminar on the relations between men and women. Ms Gilman mounts a soapbox, or at least a lecturer’s podium, and while it’s interesting for a little while, it quickly grows tedious. Torpor sets in, and it’s only partially due to the heat (the theatre isn’t air-conditioned – if it’s a hot night, dress lightly!). And while Ms. Khan keeps her energy crackling, the supporting players frequently flag, sabotaged by the didacticism of the dialogue.
Bobby McGlynn. Photo: Alice Reyes Photography
The biggest problem with the second act, though, is that Tony never appears, and in this production we want (and need) Mr. Martyka’s unpredictable energy to liven things up. His Tony in the early scenes was a wild card, and his muted explosions – usually followed immediately by profuse apologies – sent jolts of electricity onto the stage. In Act 2, it’s all talk, and we want some action.
Jim Martyka. Photo: Alice Reyes Photography
Technically, I should revise the statement that Tony never appears in Act 2. At one point, two of Theresa’s co-workers go to her apartment – she’s left it out of fear – to fetch some of her things. The script simply says they find it ransacked. However, in the tiny Theatre Unleashed space, director Jacob Smith stages the change leading into this scene by having Tony – in dim light – slowly and methodically trash Theresa’s home. He tears pages from her books, rips her clothes to pieces, savages the furniture, then, satisfied and arrogant, he walks out. It’s a brilliant stroke, and provides the most chilling moments in the act. I found myself wishing Mr. Smith had been similarly clever about the (many) other scene changes, which unfortunately are mostly clunky and thus merely emphasize the episodic nature of the play.
Mr. Smith also designed the set, a nicely expressionistic cocoon of faux brick dotted with window frames, and incorporating a couple of the theatre’s actual windows. Cameron Stark’s costume design and Gregory Crafts’s lighting design make major contributions to the production.
Bottom line: while in 2000, when it was written, Boy Gets Girl might have been daring, these days Law and Order: SVU overtakes it in shock value every week. But the play nevertheless provides juicy roles for actors, and small theatres such as Theatre Unleashed provide a valuable service by offering this kind of opportunity.
Boy Gets Girl
Written by Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Jacob Smith
Through May 9
The Belfry Stage
11031 Camarillo Street
North Hollywood, CA 91602
Tickets: 818-849-4039 or www.theatreunleashed.org