Monday, September 8, 2014

59. Review of BOYS AND GIRLS (September 3, 2014)


Here’s the recipe for the not too stiff Irish theatrical whiskey called BOYS AND GIRLS now running at 59E59 Theaters as part of the First Irish 2014 festival: take four young Dubliners, two men and two women, seat them on a bare stage decorated with nothing but two dozen hanging light bulbs, and have each in turn rise, face the audience, deliver a monologue about their sexual and romantic feelings—with a growing focus on a single partner on a particular night. Then, break the monologues up by intercutting them with one another, season the brew with a barrage of colloquially poetic prose, garnished with deep blue slang, and bring the quartet to what is for three of them both an erotic and dramatic climax, and for the other merely an anticlimax.

Sometimes bracing, sometimes funny, sometimes insightful, and sometimes sad, this 50-minute exercise, written and directed by Dylan Coburn Gray, is rarely dramatic and can only by the loosest definition be called a play. It holds the attention mainly because of the richness of its occasionally incomprehensible language and its depiction of the inner feelings and varying sexual attitudes of a cross section of Irish youth. Much as the characters are involved in a world of booze, pills, and sexual freedom, their philosophical musings and linguistic expressivity mark them as educated and intellectually perceptive.
The characters are named simply A (Ronan Carey), B (Seán Doyle), C (Maeve O'Mahony), and D (Claire O'Reilly). As the audience enters Theater B all four are seated and engaged in low-key conversation. When the lights change to indicate the show’s beginning, they join in a rather lovely bit of a Capella choral harmony to a piece of wordless music, after which A rises and begins to talk to us directly, taking only the barest notice of the others up there with him. This will be the approach throughout, as one after the other actor steps forward to say what’s on their mind. Mr. Gray has applied a structural strategy to mark steps along each character’s story, when one or the other will introduce a number that is then repeated by the group. These serve as rhythmic breaks and offer a mild visual and auditory diversion from the static nature of the overall piece.

Seán Doyle, Maeve O'Mahony, Claire O'Reilly, Ronan Carey. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
There’s no narrative connection among the characters’ stories, neither in the locales where they’re set nor in the relationships of one person with another. There’s just the four characters, speaking briskly and in essentially ordinary but pleasantly expressive tones, as if addressing a buddy rather than an audience in a theatre.
Mr. Gray’s language has a free-flowing, almost Joycean stream-of-consciousness lyricism, sometimes drifting into vagueness, and so sprinkled with examples of the local vernacular that the press packet contains a glossary. I learned, for example, that "gee" and "fanny" are euphemisms for a woman’s genitalia. Numerous examples could be cited, but, if only to give an idea of what you’ll be listening to from the beginning, here’s something from A’s opening monologue, when he discourses on a particular girl:
Let’s call her Laura, a sight for sore eyes at the worst of times and at her best she’s a burst of pure—yeah. If love is a sure and willful self-abnegation, Laura’s a sexy form of zen meditation; inducing intimations of the transcendent in men when she smiles. Her lines are fine enough for double-takes, often double-taken for a model and who’s to say you’re mistaken? She could would should be. Maybe it’s easy to think she’s beautiful; she’s blonde she’s thin, got the shape of a violin to fucking boot. Blah blah blah, ‘dutifully capitulating to what society deems attractive’, just haters hating, an argument from those lacking the lack that Laura’s rack alone is lacking. Need a minute for that one? I’ll spend it in contemplation, cos that lackless rack is crack-a-lacking.
The script combines this sort of rambling rumination—a highlight is C's lengthy disquisition on how women can deflate the negative impact of the word “cunt” by reveling in it rather than being reviled by it—and direct narrative, the latter taking a bit of time before it comes into focus. Each character expresses his or her thoughts on some sexual issue of personal concern, then talks about a specific person with whom they want to or will be spending the night. There are glancing allusions to homosexuality, but none of these characters is gay. The issues of loneliness and desire, for all the references to Dublin clubs and dating habits, are universal, although given idiosyncratic twists here, with frequent dashes of Irish wit, and the characters could be would-be young revelers anywhere.
It’s too bad that the essentially dispassionate style of performance and the lack of dramatic interchange among the characters keeps one from becoming emotionally absorbed in the events. Even when there’s an orchestration of orgasmic experiences among three of the characters, with one chiming in instead about a distraction from his own desires when a young acquaintance needs his assistance, the effect remains more discursive than dramatic, more cerebral than emotional. The actors are nicely balanced, but, in the end, you leave thankful that Mr. Gray was wise enough to bring it to a close within less than an hour, sending all us boys and girls home while there’s still time to attend to our own physical needs.