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A CurtainUp Review
Girls & Boys

Belief, you see. I never really had that until I met him. I was too scared. Back then I just dipped my toe in, constantly trying to figure out the temperature of life before eeking my body in, millimetre by panicked millimetre. Even going abroad, my great journey into the unknown came out of fear: the dread of being given the gift of life and then spending the next seventy years on the sofa in my pyjamas, eating crisps and watching Project Runway
the nameless narrator of this story of a marriage that starts out well and ends disastrously.
girls and boys
The audio book provider aptly named Audible has established a visible presence at the Minetta Lane theater. They've launched that new life with two hits featuring popular soloists. First up was Billy Cruddup in a second run of Harry Clarke, after its award winning premiere at the Vineyard Theater. Now Carey Mulligan is the ticket selling main attraction of Dennis Kelly's Girls & Boys, after a much praised run at London's Royal Court Theatre.

As I explained when I reviewed Harry Clarke at the Vineyard, as well as in my 2-part solo play feature , I generally prefer plays calling for more than one actor on stage, but I'm always ready to be smitten. All it takes is a really unique concept and a superb soloist. I certainly was smitten with Cale's entertaining, full-bodied solo masterfully brought to vivid life by Billy Cruddup.

Dennis Kelly is not a theatrical novice (his credits include the book for the musical Matilda), but he's not a solo play specialist like Harry Clarke author David Cale. Kelly's approach to this genre didn't bowl me over quite as much as Cale's. Not giving his narrator a name struck me as pretentious and unnecessary and what amounts to a tsunami of "F. . ." bombs smacks of overkill.

That said, Girls & Boys is an interesting look at a marriage gone wrong. If Ingmar Bergman hadn't gotten there first, Kelly could easily have used "Scenes From a Marriage" as his title. Actually Kelly's title smartly points to the social issue he's also exploring: the different messages embedded in girls and boys even when they're toddlers and the long range effect of this conditioning.

Kelly has structured his story as a memory play. He sets it up as a straightforward narrative — in other words, like a talk by a lecturer lightened with entertaining anecdotes. In Girls & Boys this straight-up delivered text is illustrated with detours into more traditional play-like territory.

Mulligan who was a memorable Nina a 2008 revival of Seagull and also terrific in the 2015 revival of Skylight, certainly has the presence and storytelling skills to tackle the challenge of drawing us into the scenes from this marriage. Her British accent does require extra close attention to be fully understood but her performance is elegant and vivid and warrants that attentiveness.

The directly delivered segments (tagged as "chats" in Kelly's script) are never static, and often quite funny. When the storytelling shifts to the more fully dramatized segments, the sky blue color scheme of the bare stage is retained but is slickly furnished by set designer Es Devlin. Mulligan too, though still in her rust colored shirt and dark pants, goes all out to turn her monologue into a full-fledged play. While these more play-like scenes don't provide Mulligan with a chance to inhabit a fistful of characters as Billy Cruddup did in Harry Clarke but her ineraction with unseen and unheard other characters is a different sort of challenge. And it's a challenge ably realized by Mulligan.

The story starts out amiably and entertainingly with Mulligan taking us back to the dead end she found herself in at age 25: "I realized I was 25 and I'd had exactly three sexual partners in my entire life; the first for one night, the second for six months and the last for four years. So I put all this information onto a spreadsheet and was shocked to discover that on current trends I'd be with the next guy for 326 years."

With her work life no better than her love life, she quit her job to find a new place for a restart. Her random choice of where to go didn't take her very far but it did lead to her meeting the man she would marry, a charming and successful entrepreneur. The audience meets him only as our narrator sees him, but clearly he was exactly the man she needed to boost her self-confidence so that she can pursue meaningful career choices.

Marriage, a job she loves as well as two children (who unlike her do have names — Leanne and Danny). But shades of that golden oldie movie, A Star Is Born. The star of Leanne and Danny's mom keeps rising while their dad's goes the other way.

Given how this story of a very modern marriage ends up, this second Audible production at the Minetta Lane actually has more in common with another Royal Court launched play that just opened at the Public Theater than Harry Clarke. That play is David Ireland's Cyprus Avenue which is directed by the Royal Court's own artistic director, Vicky Featherstone.

Though Cyprus Avenue features a cast of five, it's essentially the wonderful Stephen Rae's show. What's not so wonderful for anyone who's looking for escapist fare is that Euripides has a hand in both these plays' finales. But then it's those disturbing high drama climaxes that attract actors like Stephen Rae and Carey Mulligan.

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Girls & Boys by Dennis Kelly
directed by Lyndsey Turner
Cast: Carey Mulligan
Scenic design: Es Devlin
Costumes: Jack Galloway
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick
Sound: David McSeveney
Stage Manager: William H. Lang
Running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes, without an intermission
Audible at the Minetta Lane at 18 Minetta Lane
C . This was a hit at London's Royal Court last year. From 6/12/18; opening 6/28/18; closing 7/22/18.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 6/22/18 press preview

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