'Boy' evokes excruciating tensions

by Christopher Moore | 2/8/02 6:00am

Anecdotal evidence suggests that women and men sometimes have nice relationships with each other. It is difficult, however, considering how women and men actually interact, to understand how such a suggestion could be anything other than a socially manufactured palliative.

"Boy Gets Girl," a new play about stalking -- how a silly lack of chemistry can set it off; how any man with an unstable romantic life can turn his generationally sanctioned desires into obscene obsessions; how objectification can turn strong people into weak people -- is a strange kind of play.

In its performance at Dartmouth, triply-directed and designed by Mariah May '04, Marina McClure '04 and Mark Orsini '04, it brilliantly evokes sympathy for every character, whether malign or benign.

One feels sad, then embarrassed, then miserable: for the victim, who has meager human contact and does not know how to let herself gain some; for the stalker, who wants something more than ephemeral relationships but also does not know how to create them; for everyone else, who has so fully absorbed (in the final analysis) odd views about the opposite sex that they constantly regret their every social choice.

In the (intentionally) excruciating first scene, the boy and girl try, sort of, to have a nice talk. This first meeting, a blind date, goes nowhere; both characters are dreary conversationalists. By their none-too-soon departure, however, the boy, Tony -- endearingly, if opaquely, played by Cliff Campbell '04 -- has decided that the date hasn't gone off so bad after all. He's lonely in the anonymity of New York City, he's met a worldly, attractive, sports-enthusiastic woman, and he could imagine meeting up again. He proposes to Theresa Bedell, quite against social norms, that they see each other later in the week.

Theresa -- played by Amanda Posner '04, who carries herself as the stereotype of the sharp and misanthropic literary type -- makes the obvious mistake; she agrees to another dinner. Now doubly baited, Tony's hooked. But Theresa jerks hard away; she wants nothing of besmitten Tony. We see him a last time in Theresa's office, suddenly changed; instead of the goofy, lovable, awkward Tony we thought we knew, Tony has turn vindictive, feeling wronged, entitled to Theresa's undying love ... or at least lunch-time attention. The play is propelled thus.

Performed previously, in other venues, as a suspense-thriller, "Boy Gets Girl" here becomes a meditation on the absurd persistence of obsessions and assumptions and theories. The respective characters of Theresa's colleagues (Thom Pasculli '05 as her boss, Andrew Dahl '05 as a colleague, Sarah Sirota '04 as her assistant) congeal early on; while 150 minutes allows them to learn that funny things are rather "kind of funny, in a totally offensive way," and to announce that "I'm not going out with anyone ever again!" they are not allowed to develop complex, deep characters.

Such might be the intent. How can people be any more than surfaces when cult icons like Les Kennkat, played by Scott MacArthur '02, appraise women solely on their breasts, and only secondarily on their ass. (MacArthur hilariously overacts in by far the most intriguing role, soon acquiring, not so paradoxically, the only truly deep personality.) The police detective, played by Rachel Globus, must give her time to a hundred cases, which "may as well be a million."

"Boy Gets Girl" seems, in the end, a public service announcement. Rebecca Gilman, a playwright well-respected for her finely-crafted scenes, does not hesitate to proclaim and polemicize. How should we interpret Gilman's suggestion that every man has the potential to objectify and take advantage of women? Does the state's inadequate legislation and appropriations for legal protection of victims reflect on who has held majority positions in running the state?

"Oh can't you see, You belong to me" -- we cannot help but to appropriate those we see. "Boy Meets Girl" asks how we might respect people as people with dignity and interest. It does so well, if at times a little blandly and routinely. It does not, however, always respond to "How my poor heart aches" -- how we can learn to make ourselves vulnerable and reach into the social world from which we draw our breath.

"Boy Gets Girl" will run today and tomorrow at 8 p.m. in the Bentley Theater. Tickets are $1 at the door.