a negation of happiness (Girls and Boys review)

Girls and Boys

by Dennis Kelly

What happens to me, to us (maybe, maybe not you, but me, definitely me) inside that room is absolute and complete destruction. We are, she is, I am torn up from the inside out, or perhaps from the outside in. 90 minutes in and she has excavated her annihilation, and she emotionally annihilates us in the process.

Carey Mulligan holds us tight to her chest in Girls and Boys. The words hit us like darts, each sharp and knowing in its entirety. Every ounce of stage time is savored. She darts around us, scoping us out. Testing the water. Dipping her toe in. By the end, she’s pushed us all the way in and I’m not sure if my vision is obscured because of the water in my eyes or because the lights have been making me stare in the same place for too long. Lyndsey Turner directs a production that simmers. It’s a pot that takes 90 minutes to boil. All this violence sizzles at the corners of the stage, the bright strip lights illuminating and containing it in each break. It is held far away from us at first. The violence hides behind the sofa and takes its sweet time, waiting to bite down on the edges of our hearts. We know it’s coming. Kelly is nothing if not predictable. His love of humanity’s ability for ultimate, catastrophic love and atrocity sits neatly in the parameters of this script.

So we know that this violence, this unexplained violence, is coming. But for now, it’s a love story. It’s sweet and funny. Really funny. It speeds along. We’re interrupted by Carey in the living room with her kids. The set shifts. It’s almost too real to be realistic at this point, and the direct address monologues feel much more genuine than the high ceilinged apartment.

I think a lot about violence

She says it and our tone shifts. Kelly’s script is one long experiment. Make them laugh and laugh and turn to each other in their seats and smile at the familiarities of her, her life, her love, her children. Violence isn’t allowed in. It’s only on the television, or in the newspaper, on our phones, in our books, on our stages. It’s not for us though. We don’t. We don’t. Experience it. We don’t ever, really Know It.

Until we do. It’s not about gender except that it is, so much, so crucially, so deeply about gender and really about men. About the fear, the paralysing fear that I cannot ever truly know you. When I stand opposite you, my husband, the one I have said I will live with, love with, care for, comfort, forever, I don’t really know you at all. You aren’t allowed to be desensitised, not this time. This fiction has made me angry. Like fuming, cheeks hot, breathlessly angry. How the fuck have we let this happen. How the fuck can you stand there and tell me that I am not allowed to believe her. It’s not even a question for me. Of course I believe her. I believe her because I know how terrifyingly easy it is for this to be me. To be who I am, who I become. I don’t know if I would be able to hold onto love, to compassion, in the same way she does.

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