Basic Instinct

''Boy Gets Girl'' at H Street Playhouse

by Jolene Munch
Published on May 6, 2004, 12:00am | Comments


They aren't called "blind " dates for nothing. The multiple glimpses in every available mirror and window reflection, the clumsy, awkward exchanges, the uncomfortable silences and nervous laughter, and the repeat trips to the restroom are all part of what usually makes that initial meeting so anxious and -- with a little bit of serendipity -- fun. But some blind dates can go horribly, tragically wrong. It's up to Lucy Newman-Williams to learn that frightening lesson in Rebecca Gilman's Boy Gets Girl.

Gilman's story is a terrifying account of instinct and obsession that explores the nature of Cat and Mouse dating games. This time, however, the cat is a violent stalker who will go to great lengths to devour his prey.

From the moment Theresa (Newman-Williams) meets Tony (Carlos Bustamante), there is a subtle disconnect between the two: Tony doesn't know who Edith Wharton is, which wouldn't be such an issue of interest if Theresa wasn't a successful journalist writing on Ms. Wharton's "upstate estate. " Despite a tepid first impression, Theresa agrees to upgrade from the evening's "one beer " rule to another dinner date.

At dinner the conversation is a bit more relaxed and revealing for Tony, which makes Theresa even more uncomfortable. Suddenly the three-year age gap between the two -- which seems a bit wider in this production to begin with -- becomes a chasm of abyssal depths. Not only do the two have nothing in common, but now Tony is pressuring her for information that she is unwilling to give. After Theresa cuts the evening short (but not before Tony has the chance to demonstrate his concept that a woman who doesn't cook must be a feminist), she is greeted at work the next morning with flowers, and by the end of the day, with a visit from Tony himself. Let the downward spiral of creepy notes and calls, threatening messages and scary stalking begin.

Gilman, who has a gift for penning honest, unpretentious dialogue, concocts an absorbing play that is the entertainment equivalent of junk food theatre: it sure tastes good going down, but it has little substance and leaves you feeling disappointed when you hit the bottom of the bag. Gilman's plot is reminiscent of a typical Lifetime television movie. Her script is ultimately straightforward with no twists, no turns, no clever subplot to avoid the predictability factor.

Director Kirsten Kelly does her best to add a few elements of surprise and is effective with moments of dreadful paranoia and sheer terror, but the real work is left to her cast, which includes a sub-par performance from Newman-Williams.

Boy Gets Girl
By Rebecca Gilman
To 5/23
Theater Alliance
H Street Playhouse
1365 H Street, NE
$20-$25
1-800-494-8497
www.theateralliance.com

It's not that Newman-Williams isn't as deft and vulnerable and marvelous on stage as she ever was, it's that she is cast in a role that doesn't offer to take advantage of her full scope of talents. Even though Bustamante is successful at putting her on the defensive very early in the evening, Newman-Williams is still much bigger and brighter than the role of Theresa requires, and this fact becomes increasingly more evident as the night wears on.

While it can be enjoyable to watch someone else's life in crisis, Kelly's production drives home the point that you are never too far removed from that moment of liability or personal exposure. In an age of mad obsessions and objectified victims, it pays to trust your instinct. It's a less-than-inspiring topic.