‘Boy Gets Girl’ at Raven: She says sayonara, his bouquets turn to blood-curdling threats
“Boy Gets Girl” by Rebecca Gilman, at Raven Theatre through March 2 (Performances added Feb. 23 and March 2 at 3:30 p.m.) ★★★★
By Lawrence B. Johnson
It’s a thrill ride, Raven Theatre’s up close and terrifying take on Rebecca Gilman’s “Boy Gets Girl.” Tightly wound, breath-stopping and ambitious, this smartly cast production directed by Cody Estle is more than a harrowing look at what happens when a young woman falls prey to a stalker: It fully engages Gilman’s subtext about the way men and women view each other — and the fragile restraints society places on impulse.
On a blind date, Theresa, a magazine editor, meets Tony, a computer programmer. It’s just for a beer, but Tony (John Stokvis) seems like a nice enough guy – good looking, witty, self-effacing – so Theresa (Kristin Collins) agrees to another get-together, for dinner. But on second look, she’s not so sure; in fact, she cuts it short, telling smitten Tony that she really doesn’t date that much, what with her time-consuming job and all, so adios, muchacho, it’s been swell, have a great life.
Alas, Tony doesn’t relate to the word no. He starts sending Theresa flowers at work, and calling her. She rebuffs him in what you and I would consider definitive terms. Tony just comes on stronger, and when ardent insistence doesn’t work, the love-struck guy begins to show his true colors: They are dark, and tend toward red.
What follows is a sort of psychotic ramp-up as Tony keeps sucking more and more air out of Theresa’s life. It’s scary because it’s so plausible – and all the more creepy because so much of what’s happening to Theresa occurs off-stage, known only by her report. Terrible Tony is out there somewhere, and closing in.
Her co-workers at first urge her not to over-react. Maybe she’s exhausted from late nights editing. Besides, give the guy a break, he’s probably shy and he obviously thinks she’s terrific. But when Tony the Tiger really starts to snarl, a detective (Kristen Williams) enters the picture, offering the counsel of experience and acknowledging that compulsive stalkers have indeed been known to kill. And worse. Define worse, implores anxious Theresa. Confides the cop: “You don’t want to know.”
In the shoebox space of Raven’s smaller theater, director Cody Estle’s vibrantly streaming narrative isn’t just in your face, it’s in your head. Designer Amanda Rozmiarek’s efficient but nicely detailed set places the action in four different locales, including a wonderfully imaginative solution for Theresa’s apartment. We are flies on the wall.
What sells this show, however, are the authentic characters, from Stokvis’ disarming boyishness in Tony’s initial beer date with Theresa to each member of her office gang – Will Casey as her bear-size boss with a soft heart, Jon Stutzman as the young staff writer named Mercer whose interest in Theresa seems almost brotherly, Symphony Sanders as the romantically gullible receptionist.
But there’s one more spoon in this stew, a gnarled old producer of soft porn films, a straight talker about what it is men really see first in women and what women surely notice first in men. It’s all about, well, amplitude and definition, says this no-nonsense geyser in the gruff, beguiling person of Leonard Kraft. It takes the feminist Theresa and the soft porn peddler, her interview subject, some time to comprehend each other. Yet bond they do, even as she’s looking over her shoulder for a sexual predator.
The porn producer raises complicated questions that hit home about the nature of sexual politics: How do men in the office really, down deep, see their female co-workers? How do women want to be seen? Where do natural impulses come into play? What’s more, the directness of the old guy’s moral philosophy echoes in some confessions under stress by Theresa’s divorced boss and her fellow writer Mercer, who appears to be happily married. Where exactly is that shadowy line of propriety, acceptability, civility – and who hasn’t fudged it at some time or other?
A man might gaze into the mirror and ask himself if he’s so different from the stalker out there. And a woman like Theresa might look into the eyes of any man, every man, and see a potential Tony. Kristin Collins, in a textured and touching performance, careens toward just such a beleaguered perspective.
Which of these men is Theresa’s friend? What do they all want?
The pounding at her door grows wilder, like the terror in her heart.
- Performance locations, dates and times: Details at TheatreinChicago.com
- Preview of Raven Theatre’s complete 2012-13 season:Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Kristin Collins portrays a magazine editor who falls prey to a stalker in Rebecca Gilman’s “Boy Gets Girl.” Descending: Tony (John Stokvis) comes on a regular guy who just wants the girl to give him a chance. Theresa (Kristin Collins) is hounded by the stalker’s constant calls. Even in her own apartment, Theresa (Kristin Collins) doesn’t feel safe from the stalker. (Photos by Dean LaPrairie)