Guy meets girl. Guy falls in love with girl. Guy confronts some obstacle, and guy overcomes obstacle, proving himself to the audience and to the object of his affection. Guy gets girl.

Boy Gets Girl

Tonight at 7 and 11 p.m., tomorrow at 7 p.m.
Walgreen Drama Center, Studio One

Basement Arts’s production of Rebecca Gilman’s 2000 drama “Boy Gets Girl” takes this standard rom-com fodder and turns it on its head. Where in this classic story, Gilman asks, is the girl? And the answers Gilman gives develop into a critique of sexism and dating culture in America.

The play begins when the main character, Theresa — a successful magazine writer — meets Tony on a blind date. The promise of romance quickly dissolves, however, as Tony’s pursuit of her escalates into stalking, robbing Theresa of her sense of safety and selfhood.

School of Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Elliot Cruz, who plays the role of Theresa’s colleague Mercer, describes Tony’s development through the lens of a romantic movie. In Tim Burton’s “Big Fish,” for example, the main character perseveres after his future wife continually rejects him.

“Everything that guy does — writing her name in the sky with an airplane, filling the field with daffodils, finding out where she lives, finding out what she does, is to woo her,” Cruz said. “He’s stalking her, and they end up happy together. Gilman forces us to reexamine the assumptions we make about romance.”

The drama and poignancy of “Boy Gets Girl” arise from the fact that the characters involved are so ordinary and relatable. Both stalker and stalked are ultimately very recognizable people — to the actors and to the audience.

“I’m directing this show in memory of a woman who did not seek outside help when she was being stalked,” said MT&D sophomore Amanda Cohen. “She was murdered. It happens to people we know and love. It happens to confident, independent people.”

Theresa embodies the confidence and independence Cohen is talking about, but as the play and the stalking progress, she slowly loses the traits she cherishes most about herself.

“She didn’t do anything to make this happen,” said MT&D senior Emilie Samuelson, who plays Theresa. “There’s this assumption that the woman who is attacked is somehow responsible for it, and this play just puts that idea aside. She’s living the life she’s always wanted, and she loses it.”

By the same token, the likability of the stalker himself is crucial to the script. Tony — played here by the tall, dark-haired and handsome Jon Manganello, an MT&D sophomore, appears in the first scene on a blind date with Theresa, charmingly awkward and funny in that first-date way.

“It’s important that you like Tony,” Manganello said. “If I were to come out in a cape and fangs, that would be ridiculous. It’s creepier — and more true to life — that he’s a normal guy. And the clues come slowly. He’s a little insensitive, he makes light of her opinions. ‘Oh, so you’re, like, a feminist? Oh yeah, I am too.’ ”

Even members of the cast said they could identify with the motivations of the Tony character, whose actions are fueled by a culture that objectifies women. It’s reasonable that Tony’s understanding of romance could have been gleaned from a romantic comedy that shows similar disregard for the autonomy of the pursued, the woman who is there to “get got,” as Cohen described it.

The themes — the objectification of women, loss of identity, sexism — made this production attractive for grants. Where most Basement Arts plays have a budget of $100, “Boy Gets Girl” received $800, which helped construct the five sets through which every aspect of Theresa’s existence is visible at all times to the audience. Just as Tony monitors every aspect of Theresa’s life, so can the audience inspect every moment on stage.

“We had the opportunity to be a little more elaborate than other Basement Arts shows,” said LSA sophomore Tim Wood, the assistant stage manager.

While the theory supporting the story is pivotal and far-reaching, Cohen said Gilman’s dialogue performs the necessary job of breaking the tension when it needs to. For instance, after finding a graphic and upsetting note from Tony, Theresa wonders aloud if the Yankees won their game that day.

“You can’t beat up the audience and then say, ‘OK, bye,’ ” Manganello said. “There is a message to this play, but there is humor and entertainment as well.”

In a story of boy-doesn’t-get-girl, this production investigates the harmful effects a subject-object description of romance has on the people involved.

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