Friday, September 21, 2012

Theatre: Boy Gets Girl

Black Swan State Theatre Company
Written by Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Adam Mitchell
Designed by Fiona Bruce
Lighting design by Trent Suidgeest
Sound design by Ben Collins
Featuring James Hagan, Ben O’Toole, Myles Pollard, Whitney Richards, Helen Searle, Steve Turner and Alison van Reeken
 Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
Until September 30
Alison van Reeken and Myles Pollard
 The opening tableaux of the American playwright Rebecca Gilman’s gripping, malevolent Boy Gets Girl is a striking display of the strengths of director Adam Mitchell’s production.
We find Theresa Bedell (Alison van Reeken), a New York City magazine feature writer, in a set (superbly designed by Fiona Bruce) that is an abstract exercise in perspective, diminishing up a raked stage and down lines of massive re-enforced concrete sections towards a vanishing point obscured in shadows. There’s music, and traffic, but somewhere, close by, Theresa thinks she hears a noise, senses a presence; and we do too. She walks warily upstage towards the darkness, peering into it for the intruder. The stage fades to black. Welcome to her nightmare.

The lights come up on Tony (Myles Pollard, looking disconcertingly like a young Bill Clinton) waiting in a bar for Theresa’s arrival. He’s a fairly recent arrival from the sticks, she’s in rehab from a failed relationship, and a mutual friend has set them up for a blind date. They have a beer, make the smallest of small talk and arrange to meet again on the weekend. It’s gone okay for Theresa; he’s likeable enough, but there are no fireworks going off in her head. During their Saturday night dinner, she realizes there never will be, and, in the American manner, she politely but firmly draws a line through their connection.
But Tony doesn’t go away. Flowers arrive at her office; messages are left on her voicemail at work, on her cell phone, at her apartment. He calls by uninvited and unannounced. She starts to realize he knows when she’s at home, when she turns out the lights.
Irritation turns to intrusion to menace. One night, at home, she picks up the phone and Tony, somewhere, maybe on the street outside her apartment block, hurls abuse at her. She confides in her editor Howard (Steve Turner) and a colleague Mercer (Ben O’Toole), she calls a detective from the NYPD stalker unit (Helen Searle) but nothing stops the avalanche of threats from Tony or the annihilation of the life she had built for herself.
Gilman has produced an expertly structured and modulated script that elegantly avoids the Equus Syndrome (God I hate that play) of explaining everything that’s happening and why, but keeps us perfectly able to follow both the action and the rumination on men, women and their notions about each other that are at play throughout the work.
She injects a marvelously funny and ultimately touching subplot with Theresa and an aging, ailing pornographer (James Hagan, at full throttle) as both a relief from the building panic and an antidote, albeit temporary, to it.
 The cast is uniformly excellent in a piece that gives them all plenty to work with. Even the hapless office girl Harriet (sweetly played by Whitney Richards) is given a back story and a sympathetic nature, so that her abrupt sacking by the increasingly unhinged Theresa is both inevitable and saddening.
Van Reeken, although perhaps a little hurried in the establishing scenes, gives an utterly convincing, heartbreaking performance that confirms yet again what a gift she is to our stage, and Pollard captures the vile Tony so precisely that I felt genuinely uncomfortable when he joined the rest of the cast for the curtain call.
Mitchell’s creative team does an immaculate job. Trent Suidgeest’s angular lighting gives the piece the film noir look and feel that Mitchell has explicitly sought. Ben Collins’ sound design, original bebop themes recorded by trumpeter Ricki Malet, Collins himself on piano and the rhythm section of Robin Murray (bass) and Daniele Di Paola (drums) over a soundscape of distorted cymbals and Ross Bolleter’s ruined pianos, underscores the atmosphere of tension and menace.
One of Bruce’s stage effects, the most brilliantly conceived and shocking piece of action in the production, cannot be described without a spoiler alert.
You need to see it for yourself.

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 21.9.12 link here

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