Rebecca Gilman's Boy Gets Girl at Horizon Theatre illustrates how the classic Hollywood formula for amorous pursuit can resemble stalker behavior: A love-struck chap won't take no for an answer and showers his beloved with uninvited attention until she falls into his arms. Theoretically.
But Gilman suggests a fine line separates romance and menace, which is too bad for Boy Gets Girl heroine Theresa Bedell, who goes on an innocent blind date and sees her life utterly dismantled. Horizon Theatre workshopped the script at its New South for New Century Festival in 1999, and its full production, though unsteady at times, has moments of great humor and unbearable tension. With the play, Gilman doesn't mean simply to frighten audiences but to examine matters of identity and the dark corners of sexuality.
The play begins like a Manhattan comedy of manners, nearly a TV sitcom. When magazine writer Theresa (Suzanne Rousch) meets Tony Ross (Dan Triandiflou) for a beer, we identify with and laugh at their awkwardness. Tony works for a computer company and couldn't be more eager to please, although he has some peculiar gaps in knowledge, like not knowing the rules of baseball or who Edith Wharton is. He pushes the social boundaries a little -- trying to get Theresa's home address or making physical contact too soon -- but he seems innocuous.
But when Theresa tries to nip their budding relationship in the bud -- initially with the pretext of "It's not you, it's me" -- Tony doesn't get it and inundates her with flowers and phone calls at home and the office. The more she spurns his advances, the more persistent and angry they become, until they turn into grotesquely violent threats. Theresa begins to feel unsafe in her apartment, starts viewing men with increasing suspicion and faces the literal loss of her own identity when a detective (Sondra Barey) suggests she change her name.
Directed by Lisa Adler, Boy Gets Girl alternates between high-intensity drama and urban humor, and at times the balance seems a bit off. It's hard to reconcile Triandiflou's Tony, a nebbish in a sweater vest, with the psychopathic behavior that comes later, and Jen Apgar's office flirt proves a bit too ditzy. But Gilman's script supports such ambiguities, with Tony intended to seem harmless and Apgar playing the kind of woman who encourages inappropriate behavior.
The impressive things about Boy Gets Girl is how it puts lustful thoughts, smut films and stalking on the same continuum, without becoming a male-bashing diatribe.
Sexual extremes are front and center when Theresa interviews a breast-obsessed, Russ Meyer-esque filmmaker (Jim Peck). Peck delights in his Rabelasian role, and the subplot illustrates how men and women can negotiate their differences even when their values differ enormously. Welcome as comic relief, Peck's director has more stage time than you'd imagine, helping turn Boy Gets Girl into a surprisingly lengthy show.
But Rousch quickly establishes Theresa as a strong and sympathetic figure, and thus we empathize with the disruptions and violations she endures. Cut off from her home, she has to borrow a shirt from her boss, which is just one sign of her very real identity crisis. When Rousch reveals Theresa's rage and self-pity, we recognize the strain she's enduring.
Theresa undergoes pressures comparable to those faced by the protagonist of Gilman's Spinning Into Butter, where matters of race touch off a similar self-examination for a brainy professional woman. In both plays, Gilman considers, with great clarity, the challenge of looking past social differences. A line from Boy Gets Girl identifies the barrier between people and hints at how to break it down: "If you could deal with me, I could deal with you."
Boy Gets Girl plays through May 19 at Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. Wed.-Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat. 8:30 p.m.; Sun. 5 p.m. $16-$25. 404-584-7450. www.horizontheatre.com.