Falling in love is wonderful.
So the songs say. (And the poems, and movies, and novels and plays and magazines and ads — the culture’s thousands of voices that promote romance and attraction, and are never silent.)
Rebecca Gilman calls bullshit.
In Boy Gets Girl, now onstage at Theatre Unleashed, she simply and incisively lays bare the fatal danger at the heart of romantic love.
Tony, an anxious fellow, waits for a blind date. Theresa, a busy editor, almost doesn’t show up. They meet, acknowledge their unease, share the one beer they’ve agreed to, and she leaves.
Too late. He’s fallen for her.
By the play’s end, she’s had her home trashed, her career derailed, and must change her identity and move across the country to save her life. The police can’t protect her any more than her friends can.
Tony is deranged –a stalker, psycho, perp. But it’s not that simple.
Along the way, Theresa’s young secretary, totally engaged in being “girly” and attractive, falls into the predator’s trap and betrays her. Theresa also painfully examines her own desire to feel attractive, to be the object of someone’s desire. Women, we see, are entangled in a culture that pulls them from themselves and makes them prey.
Meanwhile, Theresa’s male colleagues — her sympathetic boss and a writer she’s been mentoring — face their own complicity. They leap to defend her, and deride a porn filmmaker Theresa is interviewing. But they also cop to “checking out” women’s body parts, and wonder whether they can see the person inside, or find their own emotions.
The play leads us through Theresa’s harrowing experience, but she’s not the only one who’s trapped. So is Tony. And so are we all.
We “fall in love” by throwing a tangled net of needs and desires over someone who pushes our buttons. We don’t plan to; it just happens. So suddenly and unconsciously that we speak of it as involuntary — falling happens to us — it’s not something we do to another person.
There’s a tragedy here. The Greek kind, where all our human efforts are overthrown by fate. In Boy Gets Girl, what’s tragic is how we’re trapped inside our psychological makeup, stuck with the way our feelings and our minds work (and our culture works on them).
Gilman offers no solution. It’s not clear whether we’ll ever find one. The Greeks knew the struggle to become something more than creatures of our primal drives and unconscious needs; we’re still in the middle of it. We can do our best, but it may not be enough.
Boy Gets Girl offers a grim vision, but an honest and needed one. And Theatre Unleashed gives it a very respectable production.
As Theresa, Ivy Kahn takes hold of the play at once, and never lets it slip. We know and believe her every second, as the center around which the story grows. Jim Martyka’s portrayal of Tony is also adept: He wins us gently and swiftly, then shakes us loose bit by bit with hints — then moments — of anger, until we are horrified.
Eric Cire, as the pornmeister, uses deft restraint: The unlikely quiet at the center of this brash self-promoter makes us — and Theresa — look deeper. Kate Dyler likewise uses stillness well, creating a cop whose presence calms the terrified victims she meets each day.
Sammi Lappin goes in the opposite direction, pushing the young secretary to the giddy edge of believability. And Bobby McGlynn and Erich Stachura, as Theresa’s boss and her protege, work the middle ground, embodying men who have yet to find their centers but are honestly looking.
Director Jacob Smith moves his cast simply and clearly, and brings distinct, sustained performances from all his actors. (His set design, however, wastes time on shifting furniture; a simpler set would help sustain the play’s momentum.)
Boy Gets Girl is a timely, necessary piece of theatre, and Theatre Unleashed stages it compellingly. Hard on the heels of Unleashed’s equally provocative Ligature Marks, this is yet another example of what LA’s small theaters can do — and why we love them.
Boy Gets Girl, by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Jacob Smith.
Presented by Theatre Unleashed, at the Belfry Theater, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm, through May 9th.
Tickets: <www.theatreunleashed.org> or (818) 849-4039.