Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Review of "Boy Gets Girl" at Celebration Theatre, published 10-17-2007 in the NEWS of Delaware County

Don’t meet for a blind date at Celebration Theatre. At least not during their current run of Rebecca Gilman’s psychological thriller “Boy Gets Girl,” where the question, “What’s wrong with pursing a woman?” only finds a tragic answer.

In Gilman’s play, slightly misanthropic journalist Theresa Bedell (Jennifer Summerfield) meets the socially awkward Tony (Jim Hopper) for a blind date. After a few missteps, the evening ends a qualified success, and she agrees to date number two. Here, his lack of sensitivity (“so, are you like a feminist?”) fails to conceal a smothering pushiness, and Theresa uses the familiar “it’s not you, it’s me” to end the evening and refuse any future engagements.

But he won’t hear it. A few dozen phone calls later, she tells him to get lost, and he turns from creepy annoyance into threatening stalker, interfering with her life, both at home and work.

Coinciding with Tony’s escalating intrusions, Theresa’s magazine requires her to interview Les Kennkat (Ben Kendall), an aging cult-figure and producer of B-movie sexploitation films. He initially becomes the target of her misdirected anger, as do her sympathetic coworkers Howard (Ed Gretz) and Mercer (JP Timlin), but when the stalking intensifies to violence, she finally seeks the help of Officer Madeleine Beck (Laura Cevallos). Beck’s pitiless policewoman advice: get a new number, apartment, and identity, because in her experience, these problems only end in tragedy.

Celebration’s superb effort marks one of the best non-professional productions I’ve ever seen. Dave Ebersole’s direction engages immediately, effectively exploiting Gilman’s Hitchcockian device (can’t give that away), while crafting a performance that mines the script’s latent humor only to escalate the tension further.

However, little competes for, or captures the attention more than Summerfield’s penetrating portrayal of a woman under siege. Even the quality of her laughter changes under the crippling stress, as the tremendous depth she brings to this role conveys the ever-intensifying degree of the simmering terror she experiences.

The solid ensemble performances radiate outward from her tremendous portrayal, most notably Kendall’s intentionally scene-stealing humor, Gretz’s and Timlin’s amiable protectiveness, and the harmless looking Hopper, who deftly turns surface-level awkwardness into venom.

Rodney Bruce Warren’s well-structured set, Ebersole and Bill Bansbach’s score-like sound design, and especially Paul Peyton Moffitt’s chilling lighting all enhance the force of this electrifying production.

Only Gilman’s script interferes, veering off into quasi-feminist politics and cultural analysis as she tries to insert the theme that “Tony is not alone in how he sees women.” While some of her points ring true—Theresa argues that saying, “he’s a good guy who can’t deal with women” no longer counts, as it really means that a man “can’t deal with half the population”—the majority of Gilman’s message only impedes the play’s second act.

Thankfully, Ebersole diligently handles the thematic distractions, enabling the cast to make Gilman’s arguments believable extensions of their characters, while Summerfield’s ever-more brittle responses never allow a drop in the tension that deflects from the thrust of the plot.

This hard-hitting play represents a powerful season opener for Celebration Theatre. As Theresa clings to the last shards of her identity, Tony reduces her to one final humiliating option. In this disturbing production, boy gets girl after all.

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