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Blind Date With a Terrorist 

Boy Gets Girl unsettling theatre

About halfway through Rebecca Gilman's Boy Gets Girl, when magazine writer Theresa Bedell begins to realize that she's being stalked by a guy she met on a blind date, fellow staffer Mercer Stevens comes up with a provocative idea for a feature story. Mercer's idea is that the stalker's inability to take no for an answer may be inspired and blessed by innumerable models, from movies and literature, where persistent heroes are rewarded with a lady's love after persevering in the face of that same lady's explicit rejection. The male notion that a guy is entitled to a "fair chance" to prove himself worthy of the woman of his choice is obviously anathema to all true feminists. But Boy Gets Girl, as it turns out, isn't a feminist tract. Theresa balks at having her predicament used as fodder for a magazine spread, so Mercer eventually agrees to abandon his stalking analysis -- even though he feels that Theresa's objections are groundless.

Seen last week in a wonderfully intimate studio production at Davidson College, Boy Gets Girl doesn't spring out of smug theories. It assaults the audience with compelling questions and situations that arise unexpectedly -- but convincingly -- from the interactions of imperfect people.

Those imperfect people certainly include Theresa. She may be wrong in her conclusion that she wasn't ready for a new relationship when she agreed to a blind date with Tony Ross. She's definitely wrong when she attacks Mercer's sympathetic motivations. And her professionalism flies hilariously out the window when she allows her personal problems to interfere with her assignment of interviewing a sleazeball moviemaker.

In Gilman's quirky exploration of sexual terrorism, Theresa actually evidences some personal growth as a result of her harrowing ordeal. She writes her jaundiced account of the smut pusher, her editor reluctantly publishes it, and her subject is grateful. Why? Because in emphasizing Les's photographic fixation on large female breasts, she's simply telling the truth, and because the publicity winds up landing Les an opportunity to fill his lens one last time with pulchritude, enhancing his perverse cult status.

So, the lonely, hospitalized septuagenarian sends flowers and invites Theresa for a visit. In a zany scene that's poignantly comical and quietly disturbing, Theresa accepts Les for the amiably lecherous profiteer he truly is and consents to spend a half hour at his bedside watching an episode of Jeopardy. Significant progress in Theresa's ability to trust.

But the upshot of Tony's terrorist campaign is overwhelmingly negative. Theresa is damaged irrevocably before he ever touches her, and she must make terrible sacrifices to win back even a semblance of her former freedom. When we last see her, she has decided to leave New York and turn from the work she loves to covering a sports beat. Forced to change her name, Theresa doubts she will ever see her estranged brother again.

Meanwhile ,Tony is still at large, presumably in search of a new woman who will reject him and ignite his rage. Gilman leaves Tony lurking on the outskirts of the action throughout Act II, effectively terrorizing us. Pacing flowed briskly as set designer Joe Gardner cleverly divided the stage into three performing spaces: Theresa's desk at the magazine office, the bedroom at her apartment, and the place where she meets her perverted menfolk. Student director Bill Neville worked admirably with his cast to keep the nerve-wracking scenes real. Only the pivotal scene where Theresa receives a threatening letter from Tony -- a violent violation of a criminal court restraining order -- needed guidance from a new set of eyes.

Without ever appearing to labor at the task, Beth Gardner seamlessly joined all the complex facets of Theresa together -- her independence, her crippling self-doubts, her grim determination, her helpless terror, and her winsome pluck. Similarly, Parker Dixon wraps his frail arms around the ignorance and presumption of Tony, though a more intimidating presence might have been welcome.

The relative youthfulness of Chris Walters as Mercer and Thomas Mills as the editor took more of a toll than it did for Gardner, especially for Walters playing Howard, the decisive editor. Cahit Ece was so inappropriate as the 70+ Les that it hardly mattered after a while -- his hugely frank sexist piggishness bridged the gap.

Clopping across the stage in platform heels, Christina Ritchie endowed Theresa's secretary with the requisite earnestness and dopiness. Marshay Hall rounded out the cast as Police Officer Beck, calm and serious with a nice womanly empathy for Theresa's plight -- but only capable of providing paltry relief and security.

"I want my name back!" Theresa cries out in the shocking last scene. But she can't have it. Boy Gets Girl is the most unsettling stage piece I've seen since Extremities, where a woman's response to similar sexual predatory actions is to descend into savagery. Here the response is more natural and thought-provoking. It marks Gilman as a playwright to watch closely in the future.

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