Boy Gets Girl'
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'Boy Gets Girl'

Stalking Points

Rebecca Gilman's 'Boy Gets Girl' has been giving audiences plenty to discuss on the way home.

By Evan Henerson
Theatre Writer

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 Alliance Theater.

“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 telling.’


“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 about it.’

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 victim.

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.’

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