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Gilman Gets It

Stalking drama metes out suspense

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As playwright Rebecca Gilman deftly ratchets up the tension in Boy Gets Girl, we realize that the onslaught of suspense isn't her chief concern. Yes, she wants us to viscerally experience the feelings of violation and paranoia that bedevil New York magazine writer Theresa Bedell when an ungainly blind date morphs into a vindictive stalker. And we do.

But Gilman also wants to investigate why Tony is out there in the middle of the night, seeing whether Theresa's light is on. She wants to probe into why he continues to leave voicemail after voicemail after it's obvious that his calls will not be answered. Why does he pour his venom into sadistic letters after she makes it clear that she doesn't want him or the flowers he sends her?

The elaborate web of complicity Gilman busily weaves in accounting for Tony's twisted psyche goes far beyond his parents or the onetime fiancee who dumped him. Begin with the careless unseen friend who sets up the blind date. At the height of her frustrations, Theresa even faults herself. If Tony doesn't know how to handle rejection, Theresa entertains the thought that it might be because she was awkward and unduly apologetic when she delivered it.

In this Off-Tryon Theatre Company production, pay close attention to Gilman's artful use of Tony's flowers. To Theresa, of course, they become repellent reminders of Tony's unwanted attentions. But to her editor, Howard, and her airhead secretary, those flowers have altogether different connotations. Neither misconception helps Theresa's plight.

You won't have trouble paying attention to the high price Theresa pays, particularly shattering when we consider how we'd react in similar circumstances. In her first starring role on a Charlotte mainstage, Iesha Hoffman is chillingly credible in the early going as Theresa, above her head before she knows it. Off-Tryon director John Hartness, finding himself on unfamiliar turf later in the Hitchcockian clinches, doesn't help Hoffman in laying a firm groundwork for her sudden emotional explosions.

But Hartness excels in sustaining the spontaneity and ordinariness of his cast. There's nothing at all melodramatic about Ryan Stinnett's menace as Tony -- his customary dull, halting manner makes his emotional outbursts all the more potent. Patrick C. Duke's tongue-tied qualities as Theresa's fellow staffer, Mercer, echo Tony's in a benign way; and though Brian Daye's portrait of Howard seems somewhat obtuse at first, he emerges as a caring teddy bear of an editor.

Peripheral characters are terrifically important -- and terrifically done. Kristen Jones sports a different loud dress each time she bustles onstage as the clueless secretary, and Chuck Stowe oozes self-indulgence as genial porno filmmaker Les Kennkat. Unexpectedly, Theresa learns more from Les than anyone else in a memorable hospital scene.

Perhaps Gilman's most intriguing indictment arises from the by-play between Theresa and Mercer. As the terror escalates, he decides to write an article exploring how our society implicitly condones predatory persistence by rejected lovers like Tony. The example Mercer gives Howard is persuasive: the perennial popularity of films in which the hero is rejected by a desirable woman who chooses someone else. Hollywood has the hero continuing to pursue the woman -- even to the point of crashing her wedding ceremony -- and audiences cheer him on. So why shouldn't Tony feel a sense of entitlement?

Theresa is absolutely outraged that her friend would exploit her situation in a feature story. Maybe you presume that we're supposed to agree with her. But watch closely how the Mercer-Theresa conflict plays out, how it discouragingly demonstrates the difficulty that even close associates have in communicating with each other. Then keep in mind that, in writing Boy Gets Girl, Gilman could be exploiting her friend's situation onstage -- or her own -- for all the worthy reasons that Mercer had.

So whom do we agree with now? Like it or not, Theresa has chosen to live in a men's world. It's a place where personal sensitivities, the sacred grove of women in a sexist world, must be plowed down for the sake of doing the right thing.

Powerful messages such as these are the reason why Boy Gets Girl is among the most significant plays of the new millennium. Gilman gets the whole picture, and she delivers it grippingly.

It was Russian week at the PAC as the Carolinas Concert Association capped their 2003-04 season with the Moscow Festival Ballet and Charlotte Symphony tackled a lively Shostakovich symphony. Balletomanes who packed Belk Theater may have been more puzzled by the Muscovites' Don Quixote than hidebound Symphony subscribers who were force-fed the modernism of John Harbison's "The Most Often Used Chords."

There was quaint charm to Marius Patipa's choreography that outstayed its welcome before intermission. A dredged-up recording, sounding nearly as old as Leon Minkus' 1869 Quixote score, increased the languor as it droned on. But most nettlesome was the absence of windmills in the scenic design for the woeful knight-errant to tilt against. Scenery for the gypsy camp, the forest, and the roadside may still be in the van.

While it's become commonplace to regard the Shostakovich Ninth as a post-WW2 celebration, I think my modern music professor, composer Benjamin Lees, had it right when he viewed Shostakovich's as an anti-Ninth. Instead of following Beethoven and Mahler to the Olympian heights of their last completed symphonies -- and meeting the grandiose expectations of the Kremlin -- Shostakovich starts off his Ninth with a sparse little jig.

The contrast is hilarious, and so is the music at times. Christof Perick guided the CSO through the comical marching gait of the opening allegro, then captured the full bleakness of the slower movements. The forlorn flute solo by Susanna Huppert in the moderato was like walking aimlessly through a battlefield after victory, and Mary Beth Griglak's bassoon in the largo was like the keening at a funeral. The ensemble remained sharp in the speedier third and fifth movements, giving the joyful march and the subsequent parade a gleaming manic edge.

In truth, however, the Shostakovich was as anticlimactic at Friday's concert as it was following his own 7th and 8th symphonies. Why? Israeli clarinetist Sharon Kam absolutely tore up the swift virtuosic sections of Weber's Clarinet Concerto #1. Amid the fireworks, she ascended soulfully to a heavenly sphere in the middle adagio, coaxing the softest high notes I've ever heard from the licorice.

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