Chicago Theatre Review
Boy Meets (Bad) Girl
The Scene – Writers Theatre
The prolific writer Theresa Rebeck has penned novels and nonfiction stories, as well as scripts for film, TV and the stage. She’s known in the theatre world for her many one-act and full-length comedy/dramas, such as “Mauritius” and “Seminar.”
Several of her works premiered at the Humana Festival in Louisville, where Writers Theatre first enjoyed the humor and vitriol of this play.
On a penthouse terrace, high atop a Manhattan skyscraper, a cocktail party is in full swing for those who work in the world of television. We meet Charlie, a sardonic, middle-aged, out-of-work actor, and his buddy Lewis, also part of the entertainment industry. They muse about their lives over a couple of stiff drinks. Sharing the veranda is Clea, an attractive, twenty-something young woman, who, when she opens her mouth, reveals a vapid Valley Girl, who seems superficial and totally clueless about life. However, as we soon learn by her toxic actions, she’s no bimbo. Clea’s simply playing out a well-rehearsed act and, although her vocabulary is limited to the most current trendy words and phrases (“I mean, this is so mind-blowing, right? It’s just so surreal, the lights and the water”), and almost every sentence sounds like a question, Clea knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s out for the kill.
This young Ohio refugee who, as she continually reminds everyone, has only been in the Big Apple for six months, can’t hide her insatiable, bloodthirsty lust for success. Clea speaks rapidly, with every
sentence ending in an upward inflection, her irritating, Midwestern nasality spouting the same contemporary cliches over and over again. She just emerged from a job interview, where she was seeking work as an assistant to a woman who books the talent for talk shows. Clea’s instant dislike for this intelligent, middle-age executive, with her list of phone numbers and blue and green highlighters, inspires the girl to unjustly nickname her the “Nazi Priestess.” But we recognize this heartless harpy as just one more cookie cutter copy of every ambitious Millennial who’s come to the big city to claim her self-entitled, instant success.
Charlie, on the other hand, is a down-on-his-luck, 40-year-old New York actor who’s so full of anger and angst that he can’t see his way out of the hole he’s dug for himself. His successful wife is Stella, a “competent” woman who keeps everything well-ordered and running smoothly, with a well-paying job who pays the bills. The couple are also in the final stages of adopting a baby girl from China. Stella also just happens to be the much-hated TV executive with whom Clea recently interviewed. Charlie, although he feels hemmed in by his comfortable, well-defined lifestyle, yearns for independence and adventure. In the midst of his raging midlife crisis, Charlie runs across Clea. At first repulsed by this inane idiot, he finds himself attracted to Clea, for her physical beauty and ruthless ambition.
Charlie and Stella’s close friend, is Lewis, a swinging single who has more heart and soul than his buddy. While Clea attracts him, at first, Lewis isn’t blind to the fact that she’s far more interested in Charlie. Why that is, he can’t quite understand. However, Lewis isn’t a guy to stand in the way of love…or lust. He’s also a true friend to Stella and, when Charlie shacks up with Clea, Lewis is there for her. But Charlie’s like a kid in a candy store and wants it all. He expects Stella to keep paying for him, while he’s bonking Clea. Stella, however, wisely decides to cut her loses and move on just as Clea is growing tired of Charlie’s laziness, his slovenly habits and overbearing demands. There’s greener pastures out there for the predatory Clea and she ultimately heads that way at her first chance.
The talented quartet, under the expert guidance of noted Chicago director, Kimberly Senior, is impeccable. Mark L. Montgomery, a familiar face at Writers, as well as many other Chicago theatres, is brilliant as Charlie. As the play’s doomed antihero, Montgomery unleashes long, wordy monologues and short, anger-filled barbs that expose every ounce of his pathos, frustration and rage. Charlie’s verbosity is often fueled by overflowing swigs of vodka and inspired by everyone around him, especially Clea.
Deanna Myers is astonishing as Clea. This newcomer to Writers Theatre has already dazzled audiences all over Chicago, including the Goodman, the Hypocrites and Porchlight Music Theatre. Ms. Myers encompasses her character; she doesn’t simply play Clea; she IS Clea. Her character’s uncontrolled psychobabble gushes forth naturally and intelligibly, swirling around the stage and drowning all the other characters her in her piquant prattle. Audiences won’t like Clea, but, as played by Ms. Myers, they’ll never forget her.
Stella is played with dignity and understandable frustration by Charin Alvarez, a talented actress also making her Writers Theatre debut. Playing this hard-working, highly efficient woman, whose career has all but consumed her, Ms. Alverez provides the financial support for Charlie and herself. She’s a rock, the ever-reliable breadwinner for the family, and a woman whose biological clock is ticking. Stella assumes, despite her constant complaints about a job she hates, that their life together is going well. However, when this toxic, young adversary enters their world, Stella’s bewilderment and inability to combat Hurricane Clea makes her the character with whom most audiences will empathize.
Lewis, as played by familiar Writers Theatre actor LaShawn Banks, is the quietest of Rebeck’s characters. He’s the buddy, the stalwart friend who doesn’t always share his friend Charlie’s disdain and pessimism for New York and its inhabitants. He enjoys partying and picking up superficial pretty girls, with nary a longterm relationship in mind. Like Charlie, he sees Clea only as a boring bimbo, but with a pretty face and an attractive figure. She’d be good for a one night stand, but nothing more. Mr. Banks’ confusion at Charlie’s obsession with this girl is well-played, as his ultimate care and concern for Stella’s abandonment.
Beautifully staged on Brian Sidney Bembridge’s flexible, polished plexiglass-and-steel scenic design, accented in shades of black and gray, and stunningly lit by Sarah Hughey, this production will linger with audiences long after the final, heart-stopping scene. Theresa Rebeck’s fierce, darkly humorous morality tale about our current, celebrity-obsessed society, reveals people bent on instant success and immediate gratification. These people have little concern about their future, and this credo is played harshly, but with humor. Charlie’s boy meets (bad) girl story has certainly been told before, but never with so much venom and hostility. As Charlie observes, “The only true pleasure left in the world is trashing other people. Especially when they have something you want.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 22-April 2 by Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 847-242-6000 or by going to www.writerstheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.