Boy Gets Girl ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Boy Gets Girl

Boy Gets Girl by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Kate Cherry. Designed by Christina Smith, with Belinda McClory, Stephen Phillips, John McTernan, Kenneth Ransom, Rebekah Stone, Terry Norris and Kellie Jones. Melbourne Theatre Company at the Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre, until July 2.

I don't think my ho hum feeling about Boy Gets Girl was entirely to do with the revolve, but it's fair to say that the orchestration of the play didn't help. Director Kate Cherry had an idea, and stuck to it grimly. Like so: scene ends, turn up thriller-type music and industrial lighting effects, whirl those desks and beds sedately around the theatre, cue hurried prop preparation by the actors, and bingo! new scene...

Don't get me wrong, I like revolves, they're funky. But as somebody said of love making, repetition either enhances or deadens. In this case, the inexorable rhythm set by the revolve had me yawning by half time and longing for a static stage where lights could just come up, bang, without all this technological fuss. And although Cherry's direction flattened any dramatic arc the play might have had, I'm not sure that it had much in the first place. The only real virtue of this production is that it frames a virtuoso performance by that fine actor, Belinda McClory.

Rebecca Gilman's play is an earnest exploration of the effects that stalking has on its victims, in this case a bright literary journalist Theresa (Belinda McClory) who works for a swank New York magazine. Single and workaholic, she is set up for a blind date with Tony (Stephen Phillips) by a well-meaning friend. When she decides that she's not interested, Tony won't take no for an answer, and bombards her with flowers, letters, phone calls and emails that become steadily more sinister.

Being stalked is no fun at all, as I know myself, and Gilman does a good job, at least initially, of portraying the powerlessness, paranoia and frustration that it can induce, and demonstrating the frightening lack of legal recourses for stalking victims. Theresa finds her whole life invaded by her stalker: she loses her home, her job and even her identity. And she can do nothing about it.

Less successfully, Gilman ties the issue of stalking, via some conversations with Theresa's workmates Mercer (Kenneth Ransom) and Howard (John McTernan), to the sexist objectifying of women. Her fellow office workers engage in painful and somewhat tedious self-examination, and decide that stalking is at the dark end of a continuum which begins with male sexual desire.

This argument is extended in Theresa's comic interviews with an aging John Waters-type film director, Les Kennkat (Terry Norris), whose porno horror movies have become cult classics, and the young bimbo secretary Harriet (Rebekah Stone) who is, mystifyingly, dressed like Bubbles from Absolutely Fabulous.

In blaming the phenomenon of stalking squarely on media stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes to women, Gilman glosses over the fact that 20 per cent of stalking is done by women. Stalking is obsessed and delusional behaviour that isn't inherently to do with gender, although its behavourial peculiarities are naturally inflected through gendered behaviours. To claim that male sexual attraction is simply a milder version of stalking is, to say the least, problematic.

But this is a play with a message, designed to hold the mirror up to society so we can then question it, yadayadayada. Forgive my cynicism, but this idea of theatre bores the pants off me: it's all very worthy, but mightn't it be, perhaps, a teensy bit patronising...? Its analysis never moves beyond the realms of pop psychology, and its emotional high points are all confessions, a version of what my friend called the "emotional pornography" that drives shows like Oprah and Jerry Springer. Pace the disillusioned Hester Bell of a few posts ago, might not this be the kind of skilful, dull naturalism that makes people wonder why they don't stay home and hire a DVD?

Belinda McClory gives an excellent and nuanced performance as Theresa, the emotionally spiky and increasingly vulnerable journalist, and the cast generally supports her well. But even decent performances can't make up for the essential banality of this play. It reminds me of a lot of contemporary American poetry: it's very competently written and it's literate. As a play, it moves from scene to scene efficiently and has the requisite comic relief. But as theatre, it's about as interesting as the telemovies it so closely resembles.

Melbourne Theatre Company

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