Gilman's 'Boy Gets Girl' has been giving audiences plenty to discuss on the way
By Evan Henerson
Tony meets Theresa. Tony likes Theresa. The feeling isn't
mutual. Theresa breaks up with Tony after two dates.
Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy doesn't like rejection.
Boy stalks girl.
It begins with Tony delivering a crush of flowers. Next come
anxious and threatening messages on Theresa’s answering machine, followed by
possible acts of violence against her friends. Theresa tries to ignore the
attention, but she loses the battle. “I don’t know what constitutes stalking
legally,’ Theresa tells a co-worker at the magazine where she works as a writer.
“But if he’s not, then he’s coming awfully close.’
“Boy Gets Girl,’ Rebecca Gilman’s award-winning play, which
opens this week at the Geffen Playhouse, is the theatrical equivalent of a page
turner. It also hits on themes of such topicality that audience members at
earlier productions have been exiting the theater both disturbed and anxious to
discuss what they’ve seen.
“I hope it plays like a really fun scary thriller,’ says Geffen
Artistic Director Randall Arney, who is also directing the production. “But when
you leave the theater and get to rest afterwards, there’s still plenty to chew
on that makes it really relevant."
“Becker' co-star Nancy Travis, who plays Theresa in the Geffen’s
production, had been looking for a play to do in L.A. “for decades.’ She thumbed
through the first page of “Boy Gets Girl’ while cooking dinner for her family.
And she was hooked.
“I stood at the counter and read it. I could not put it down,’
says Travis. ‘We had to order in that night.’
Trenchant and troubling
Top-notch thrillers are rare, certainly, and even when they’re
successful, they don’t typically end up leading Time magazine’s list of the best
theater productions of the year 2000. “Not just a gripping play,’ hailed the
magazine, “but also an important one.’
By the time Time weighed in, Gilman was already a star on the rise. “Spinning
Into Butter,’ her 1999 play about latent racism on a college campus, was racking
up plaudits. When she wrote “Boy Gets Girl,’ turning her focus to gender issues
and social boundaries, Gilman began to acquire a reputation as the socially
topical playwright du jour.
“The brilliance of what she does is that she tackles enormous
sociopolitical issues in pedestrian terms, and I say that with great affection,’
says Susan Booth, artistic director of the Alliance Theater Company in Atlanta.
“I also have a huge affinity for people who create smart, articulate and
emotionally messy female characters.’
‘People usually assume that I’m a real hard ass,’ says Gilman, “and they always
comment on how surprised they are at my, I don’t know, my softer demeanor, that
I’m not hitting people with a stick.’
She’s content to let her work speak — and hit — for itself, and she’s only too
happy to have audiences experience “Boy Gets Girl’ as a pot boiler. The Geffen
run will include the usual Tuesday postperformance discussions. An April 21
symposium titled “Anatomy of a Blind Date’ will feature
Rhonda B. Saunders, a deputy district attorney with the City of Los Angeles
who developed the L.A. District Attorney’s Stalking and Threat Assessment Team.
Gilman has never been involved in selling up any postproduction forums on the
themes of “Boy Gets Girt,’ and she’s not sure she wants the play overanalyzed.
“I’m sort of a fan of people taking things home and thinking about them, so I
guess with this play there’s a mood or a tone that I hope will sustain itself,’
she says, adding with a laugh, “I want them not to sleep, to get the butcher
knives out and put them on the bedside table, all that good stuff.’
Booth, who served as dramaturge on the play’s premiere at Chicago’s Goodman
Theatre, also staged a production of Gilman’s “Spinning Into Butter’ at the
“And there were talk-backs and panelists and symposiums all about latent racism
and the work place,’ recalls Booth, Alliance’s artistic director. “(‘Boy Gets
Girt’) is seldom accompanied by the same kind of activity. I think that’s
“I think we point to racism and say, ‘Oh, look, there it is. There’s the monster
in the room. Lets circle the monster and talk it to death,’’ continues Booth. “I
find sexism pervasive in day-to-day life and that we’re far less willing to talk
Torn from headlines
The seed for “Boy Gets Girl’ had been planted in Gilman’s mind several years
ago. She knew she wanted to write about a reporter, but didn’t know where to
take the character until she read a New York Times story about women who were
stalked by their police officer boyfriends.
The story contained practical advice — everything from trimming the bushes in
front of your house to changing your identity — all of which applies to the
Even when it veers away from the Tony/Theresa plot line, “Boy Gets Girl’ never
moves far from the arena of sexual politics. Theresa’s co-workers include
Harriet, a 21-year-old female office assistant whose notions of romance make her
oblivious to Theresa’s predicament. Mercer, a fellow writer, wants to write a
story about stalking using Theresa as a case study. Theresa also has several
encounters with Les Kennkat, a Russ Meyer-like film director who, despite his
involvement with films titled “Ga Ga Girls Galore’ isn’t necessarily the sexist
pig he first appears to be.
The Geffen’s Arney points out that the play’s four male characters — Tony,
Mercer, Kennkat and Theresa’s editor, Howard — all struggle with the question of
male/female interaction in different ways.
“All of us know those early feelings of infatuation where you drive past the
person’s house five times, where you make the phone call, then hang up and try
it again,’ says Arney. “The play points out how terribly fragile those systems
are if the person next to you decides not to respect those unspoken boundaries.’