After her second date with Tony, Theresa knew this was not going to work.
After her second date with Tony, Theresa knew this was not going to work. She tries to be nice to him, saying she was "not ready for a relationship." But what does it get her? Now running at Stagecrafters, you learn what it is like to fall prey to a stalker in "Boy Gets Girl" by Rebecca Gilman,
Steve Travers is eerily credible as the stalker. On their dates, Tony is a pleasantly nervous "nice guy." He accepts Theresa's rejection with measured generosity, says all the right things and you like him. But when he giggles that men who date older women really want to have sex with their mother, you understand Theresa's alarm.
Theresa is a journalist for a New York magazine and she is recovering from a failed relationship. With a predator’s cunning in spotting weakness, Tony eases right in telling her that she is hiding behind her job and unable to "open up" to people. One of the ironies in "Boy Gets Girl" is that Theresa comes to know herself precisely because a sicko destroys her life.
Sarah Heddins does not try to make Theresa likable. You feel that she is already headed for trouble. In her physical bearing and snarky way of talking, Heddins creates a self-involved character who is dismissive of others even as she chides them for lack of empathy.
Under director Mariangela Saavedra, the Stagecrafters production holds your attention for well more than two hours. Tony is not physically present after the first half hour. But you feel his cunning and evil presence, especially in his manipulation of the young office secretary, Harriet (Taylor Morgan). You cringe every time the scene shifts to Theresa's apartment.
"Boy Gets Girl" has so many scene changes it gives stage manager Kathleen Johnson a workout. In the dimmed lights, Eric Gershenow fills in the time with a sound design that grows more dissident with the sense of emerging threat. While scene changes are deftly handled, Gilman's stop-and-start dramaturgy is distancing, continually reminding you that you are watching a play.
That seems to be the intention. "Boy Gets Girl" runs on separate tracks. At one level, the plethora of scenes builds up a mosaic of a storyline in which we see a woman held hostage to stalker terror. At another level, each scene is a mini, one-act play that serves as a staging ground for Gilman's feminist talking points.
Theresa has prickly arguments with work colleagues. Howard (Jim Broyles) is Theresa's boss, a placid figure whose uninvolved, common sense annoys her. Fellow journalist Mercer (Joshua Hawkins) wants to write a magazine piece about Theresa's stalking experience – which comes across as covert domination expressed as sympathy.
Theresa shrieks, "I am not theoretical!" Not true. Playwright Gilman had a stalker encounter when she was 33 years old, and she expands on the experience in "Boy Gets Girl" to include ideas about gender politics. Theresa's unspoken, true position is “I am the only person who has the right to theorize about my experience.”
And her theory boils down to this: being stalked is the norm for women in a misogynist society. It is embedded in the culture. She refers to the "Boy Gets Girl" movies in which a persistent man beats down obstacles to win the woman in the end. Isn't this ardent suitor just a subliminal stalker? she asks.
With all this angst, "Boy Get Girl" sorely needs the humor Mark Grayson brings to the caricature role of Les Kennkat. Theresa is assigned to interview him, an elderly man and a cult movie-maker obsessed with women's breasts. Theresa is nasty at first, then comes to like Kennkat because he is so funny and so honest about being a jerk.
"Boy Gets Girl" works as a stalker movie. Officer Beck (Tanya O'Neill) enhances suspense when she explains the limits of law enforcement in these situations. The officer’s practiced professionalism annoys Theresa and adds another dimension of terror to her entrapment.
You wish playwright Gilman would leave it go at that. But she cannot resist layering in more conversation. Theresa gets Beck to talk about how she became a police officer. Beck goes on to explain that, unlike her five brothers, her family laid a burden of expectations on her just because she was a girl.
"Boy Gets Girl" yo-yos between suspense-horror and sermon. You feel the influence of Bertolt Brecht, who insisted the purpose of theater is to provoke thoughtfulness. As to "Boy Gets Girl," I have the thought that a psychopath is sui generis, and that the argument for cultural emanation is specious, shaky at best.
Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. "Boy Gets Girl" will run through Feb 26. Tickets available at 215-247-8881 or thestagecrafters.org.