A visit to the dentist? An IRS audit? A blind date? All might trigger understandable apprehension — but bone-chilling anxiety over that last item? As Halloween approaches and a frisson of fright chills the air, URI Theatre is presenting a psychologically taut staging of Rebecca Gilman’s Boy Gets Girl (through October 25).
Setting this in New York City was half the battle, seeing how it’s a symbol to the nation — or at least to Midwest tourists — for uncaring strangers and anonymous violence. Theresa (Jolie Lippincott) is a writer for a national arts and culture magazine, on staff for 12 years. A workaholic with no family or many friends, she’s not shy or reclusive, just self-contained. Deciding to break out of her shell, she agrees to go on a blind date — well, to have a beer with a stranger.
Tony (Cory Crew) is nervous at the meeting, but not weirdly so. He asks early on if she’ll have dinner with him that week — “to get it on the table.” Not wanting to be rude, she agrees. But they have little in common. She reads voluminously and likes sports, he doesn’t. He designs software for businesses, going from office to office, not making friends because he’ll be moving on. Theresa doesn’t learn much more on their dinner date, but while he doesn’t lose that edginess then, he’s no nervously tittering Norman Bates from Psycho. Still, when she says she’s not ready for a relationship, some anger flares from Tony as he says he watched a ball game the night before and memorized some of the players’ names to impress her. When she gets up to go, he moves to kiss her, and she thrusts out her hand like a sword parry.
Tony sends flowers to her office the next day to apologize. Innocuous enough. But when she protests, he sends flowers to apologize for sending the flowers. Two male workmates are comforting, her editor Howard (Jesse Dufault) and fellow staff writer Mercer (Johnny Sederquist). They also come in handy for an eventual examination of the general attitudes of men toward women. Playwright Gilman suggests that some attitudes that might seem innocuous in themselves are actually on a continuum that gets increasingly dark. As Sigmund Freud asked, “What do women want?,” Gilman asks, “Why can’t men take women at their word?” Not only is no sometimes not heard as no — such as Tony interpreting her spurning him as a fear of intimacy — but sometimes female opinions are not taken at face value. Lest the play come across as anti-male, Gilman eventually humanizes the amusing character of Les (Colin Brown), a 72-year-old maker of films celebrating women with large breasts. Even the Hugh Hefners of this world, the playwright indicates, can be foolish rather than malign.
To her credit, Gilman has Theresa examine her own tendency to not speak her mind out of fear of being thought rude. Why, she asks herself, after that date did she pretend that it was her own hang-up that made her not want to see him again? No, that wasn’t a good idea says Detective Madeleine Beck (Kira Hawkridge), who comes into the picture when Tony’s incessant answering machine messages get angry and eventually threatening. The best practice would have been to simply say she didn’t want to see him again but give no reason. To say that she was breaking things off because, for example, she’s too high-strung can just give him the challenge of calming her down.