The Column Online



by Rebecca Gilman

Resolute Theatre, Proper Hijinx, & L.I.P. Service

Director – Jason Leyva
Stage Manager – Katie Brown
Producer – Amy Cave
Production Manager – Steve Cave
Scenic Designer – Jason Leyva
Lighting Designer – Branson White
Sound Designer – Daniel Bergeron
Media Designer – Joshua Hahlen
Marketing Manager – Stefany Cambra
Run Crew – Andrew Aguilar, Amber Marks
Board Op – Steve Cave, Joshua Hahlen
Pinch Hitter Tech – Stephanie Campbell
Box Office – Kate McCay

Theresa – Stefany Cambra
Tony – Justin Duncan
Howard – John Daniel Pszyk
Mercer – Parker Fitzgerald
Harriet – Emily Burgardt
Les Kennkat – Van Quattro
Detective Beck – Dayna Fries

Reviewed Performance: 8/11/2017

Reviewed by Ryan Maffei, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Shortly before the 2016 election – when everyone’s senses of progress and comfort suffered a rattle – my fiancée made a remark which still sticks with me: “I don’t think I’d rather have been a woman at any other point in history”. It probably goes without saying that this wasn’t indirect praise of our current era, in terms of gender relations. Not that there isn’t a thing or two to praise – in the last three years or so, there has been a palpable and intense strengthening of terms in the dialogue about women’s rights, be they social, reproductive, or otherwise pertaining to the long litany of little slights anyone without a penis suffers every day. A rapidly growing contingent of women, and allies of other distinctions, have arrived at historically maximal refusal to take shit. On top of that, “feminist” has finally been reclaimed from the negative connotation long forced on it butt hurt male propagandists – if also threatened by wolves-in-disguise hip to how the term functions as a password. Hillary’s loss (“loss”) and Trump’s ascendancy portend a harder and harsher fight, but its one women are gloriously ginned up to win.

Still, my fiancée’s comment seriously struck me – coming from the person I love most, from someone who shares my relatively comfortable racial and class status but remains victimized by definition in ways I’ll never be able experience firsthand. It’s not only her stark affirmation of just how long it’s taken for women to be allowed any sense of actual equality, but the way she highlighted how far we still are from 100% on that front. The Equal Rights Amendment (“equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”) has been fiercely prevented from constitutional inclusion for nearly a century, its impossibly mere and sane language notwithstanding. Income inequality between the sexes is still a well-noted problem. Sexism is crazy-rampant, down to the scraps of dubious-origin sexualization in an otherwise kosher badass blockbuster like Wonder Woman. And now there’s a scarily influential movement based on a toxic composite of reactionary viewpoints, all of which expect comprehensive subservience, an imprisonment in hard-dying stereotype, from women.

In all the real-world struggles mansplained (sorry) above, the prime-culprit contingent is pretty obvious. What is it about men? The obvious source is a uniquely woundable sensitivity – a sensitivity so massive, and so callously drained of any of its validity by the patriarchal cultures which bore our current society, that the slightest affront triggers a dose of pride, with violence too often the result. We live in a society designed to permit, or at least expect, this violence in whatever form it takes. My understanding of the world from kid hood on was afflicted by a harmful sense of roles – received ideas about girls as almost being another species, and as the reward in the most unavoidably encouraged objective, the pursuit of a relationship. (Gay people were spoken of as if chimerical, and any suggestion thereof in oneself was met with a traumatizing, merciless derision.) Even once we were older, misguided senses of entitlement or resentment or whatever informed insensitive choices among me and my other male friends. It’s pretty clear, in 2017, that none of us men should feel certain asserting that he’s fully divested himself of this.

In light of how active these battles seem, how new the countermovement of to-the-letter equality and ideologies wrangled into modernity can feel, its remarkable how thoroughly on-point Rebecca Gilman’s 17-year-old Boy Gets Girl was. Surrounded by softly exploitative teen-pop (which has happily since been reclaimed) and the same old studio-cinema sexism (which we’re still waiting to evolve), Gilman saw with crystal clarity just how far away we still are from treating women like people. Her play’s greatest asset is how no character adheres to an archetype, not just her winningly complicated protagonist. She includes two nice guys who both discover holes in their self-assured “chivalry”, and, in the most affecting stroke, a Russ Meyeresque skeez who turns out to have a relative dearth of misogyny and enough goodwill to tacitly forgive (even if he’s still got a ways to go). There’s a young woman ensconced in convention to a dangerous point, and an older woman, a detective, whose attitude appears at first to play into the oppressive patriarchy Gilman illustrates so dexterously. And then there’s her terrifying titular “boy”.

Said boy in this fantastic new production of Gilman’s piece – the seriously impressive efforts of three different companies working in tandem, Proper Hijinx, Lip Service and Resolute – is played by Justin A. Duncan, an increasingly beloved and accomplished performer around the area. With his ghostly eyes, perpetually boyish face and slightly hulking frame, he’s physically tailored to this role – the naturally sweet face a juxtaposition against the terror he gradually perpetrates, just distant enough to leave his intentions mysterious throughout; the larger stature posing a threat before anything about his behavior does. In a play with uniformly excellent performances, Duncan’s is the most curious. The mannerisms he adopts are so believably awkward, it’s unusually tricky to notice the acting work behind it, and not in the way you think, where a performer shows their hand. It’s difficult to imagine Duncan isn’t a little like this (in terms of his carriage and delivery, not the character’s personality or choices, obviously) in real life – which is what you hope from an actor. It serves the disconcerting shifts of his villain, Tony, quite well.

The Girl, meanwhile, gets one of the most remarkable interpretations I’ve ever seen anywhere in town. Bearing the weight of female suffering, and fully nailing an astonishing range of modes from ebullient to gently perturbed to utterly broken to about eight different flavors of resolute, is Proper Hijinx founder and director Stefany Cambra, taking on a lead character for the first time in what must be a while. Yet there’s not a shred of evidence she hasn’t been honing these chops every month for several years. In a role tasked with massive emotional demands, Cambra proves proficient at the very finest kind of acting – the kind where a person molds their natural behaviors to the page’s demands, and would appear to be improvising were their part not so clearly embedded in a worked-out structure. She doesn’t hit a single false note, and considering what her Theresa is called on to feel, that’s insanely impressive. She exhibits a fetching chemistry with the rest of the cast, too, and it’s a thrill to watch her adapting to each of them. This is the kind of serious, riveting work you hope to see anytime you buy a ticket to a character piece.

Her efforts are served beautifully by Duncan’s cipher and by a hugely reliable collection of supporting performers. The ensemble’s highlights are John Daniel Pszyk and Van Quattro, giving wonderfully scruffy performances as the play’s older men. Both exhibit an almost seductive warmth in completely different ways (neither of them “seductive” in that sense, and crucially in both cases) – Pszyk’s greatest attributes attunement and comic intuition, Quattro’s detachment and foggy, jazzy delivery. Emily Burgardt is also great, doing covertly intelligent hard work as the piece’s most pronounced comic presence, and least fleshed-out person. Parker Fitzgerald is a prince of affability as Theresa’s younger colleague, and though his big good-guy monologue feels on the nose, suffering from too-tidy delivery, he otherwise operates with commendable calm and restraint, and when it’s disrupted in a key #notallmen outburst he’s very effective. Dayna Fries is even harder to read than Duncan, but she and Cambra share one of the play’s most touching, earthbound scenes, and possibly its only undeniable means of acing the Bechdel test.

Every single scene serves a different facet of the discussions alluded to at the beginning of this piece, and occasionally, the language can seem crudely preachy, a touch less than natural – though often, the nuance of the performances transcend this. It really is amazing, however, just how much ground Gilman covers in this raging debate. Every character’s motives (beyond Theresa, who doesn’t need it and comes fully-formed anyway) are unpacked. Her refusal to present any kind of clear-cut situation is the greatest asset here, astutely rendering no extraneous character all good or all bad, and culminating in a poignant, deeply ambiguous conclusion which (hopefully) functions as a very subtle spur to action. Despite all this, discussions between these characters serve no kind of thematic ambiguity. Sparkling with ironic spunk and festooned with fun detail, Gilman’s single-minded sense of purpose bristles throughout. And the smart, evenhanded direction, gorgeous, realistic set, canny, inventive tech and warm-to-moody-to-eerie lighting lend a wonderfully complete-feeling production its perfect quantities of framing and aesthetic.

So please go check out the work they’re doing over at Amy’s Studio of Performing Arts – count it as a civic duty in these trying times. Its efficacy is timeless, but there’s no better moment than now to sit face to face with a gripping, unsparing illustration of just how hard we’ve made this world for women.

Amy’s Studio of Performing Arts, 11888 Marsh Ln., Ste. 600, Dallas, TX, 75234.
August 18-20 and August 25-27, all shows at 8:00 PM.

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