Rebecca Gilman’s “Boy Gets Girl,” making its West Coast premiere at the Geffen, is the story of a young, confident journalist who is gripped by feelings of helplessness when a rejected suitor sets out to systematically destroy her life. Gilman’s play emphasizes the pathetic vulnerability of the victim. As in her earlier “Spinning Into Butter,” the author never sugarcoats downbeat reality, nor does she resolve the plot in a burst of neatly reassuring melodrama.
Director Randall Arney shrewdly allows the early humor to play without portentous signposts of trouble, while danger slowly encircles 35-year-old Theresa (Nancy Travis), after she accepts a blind date with handsome, seemingly amiable computer specialist Tony (Mark Deakins).
Minor incompatibilities erupt into friction. Tony isn’t familiar with Edith Wharton and pushes too quickly for a second date. When he discovers Theresa is a few years his senior and jokingly speculates that men who like older women want to have sex with their mothers, then expresses surprise that she can’t cook, Theresa bolts from the restaurant.
Apparently not discouraged, Tony sends flowers, shows up at Theresa’s New York office and evolves into a male version of Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.” However, in Gilman’s play, Tony’s role recedes, then disappears. His escalating harassment consists only of offstage threats in act two. Play suffers from the on-stage absence of Tony — who Deakins inhabits with a multi-layered personality.
Fortunately, another juicy character jumps in to fill the gap. Les (James Farentino), slouching suggestively in Christina Haatainen Jones’ aptly gaudy shirts, is an unapologetic producer of softcore porn films, a “diehard fan of mammary glands.” He becomes the subject of an interview for Theresa’s magazine. Theresa spars with him about making women sex objects while he needles her for being uptight and sexually close-minded. Their comedic relationship pushes the thriller aspect of the play underground for lengthy periods, however. Nonetheless, Farentino’s lusty turn is a hit show unto itself.
Two of Theresa’s sympathetic co-workers, Howard (Charles Janasz) and Mercer (Taylor Nichols) supply subdued contrast. Janasz’s Howard amusingly defines his sexuality with “I haven’t had a date since the Carter administration.” Nichols is totally natural as Theresa’s friend.
Against the backdrop of Theresa’s decimated, ransacked apartment — an appalling sight as designed by Andrew Jackness — Nichols vividly and guiltily recalls his own sexual desire for her, seemingly implicating all men as potential stalkers under the right circumstances.
Travis (so engaging in TV’s “Becker” and Broadway’s “I’m Not Rappaport”), is commendable precisely because she isn’t likeable. She avoids any temptation to be the “good” girl to Tony’s “bad” stalker. Travis conveys neurosis, uneasiness with men, instability, ambition and competitiveness, so that her fear, when finally exposed, is twice as touching.
Her scenes with cop Madeleine (Monnae Michaell) have a cutting edge, and it’s regrettable that Madeleine isn’t drawn more fully or made a vital enough element in the story’s climactic moments.
As Harriet, an incompetent assistant and surprise betrayer, Julie Ann Emery provides a striking prototype of mindless sexiness. Attracted to Tony, she calls him cute, and Theresa’s response is worth remembering: “Cute isn’t everything.”
Boy Gets Girl