Girl in Heat
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
February 2, 2006
Nelson Avidon’s new play, Girl in Heat, lives up to its title—there is definitely a girl in it who is in heat. But that’s the only thing it has going for it. This frustrating and confusing play will likely provoke feelings of indifference in the audience, causing them to ask the questions that the creators apparently failed to ask: “What’s the point of this?” “Why are we watching this?” When a 75-minute play feels long and tedious, these are questions that need answering.
It’s the end of the work day on a hot summer evening here in New York. Joseph, a lawyer, is lollygagging around the office. Enter Marilyn, the sweet, young office temp. It’s her last day on the job, and she stops in to say thanks and goodbye. Or does she? Before long, these two are playing cat-and-mouse games of verbal and physical seduction. It’s just a matter of who will blink (or break) first.
With a set-up like that, you’d think that Girl in Heat would be primed and ready to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. But, it doesn’t. Avidon opts instead to make Girl in Heat nothing more than a showcase vehicle—presumably for himself, as both a writer and actor (he plays Joseph). Unfortunately, the play’s lack of theme, relevancy, and urgency make it nothing more than predictable and implausible. Avidon’s will-they-or-won’t-they plot generates no suspense, because it’s never in doubt which direction the characters are going. His idea of clever banter is to make the characters answer questions with other questions. Ugh. And the most seductive dialogue Avidon can think of? It’s a tie between Marilyn saying to Joseph early on, “I’m like a limp strand of pasta. Throw me against the wall and I’ll stick,” and then later telling him flat-out that she has no gag reflex. What?!
Not to mention that such events strain the credibility of the situation. If this entire workplace foreplay/seduction scenario were played out in real life, hopefully one of these people would be smart enough to either get a hotel room or walk away completely. But here neither character is that smart. Granted, Joseph has a legit reason for not taking Marilyn back to his place: he’s married. But, Marilyn doesn’t have a good one for not bringing Joseph back to hers: she has “rules” about who she takes home. (What the hell does that mean?) So they stay in the office, within earshot of Joseph’s assistant, and possibly some of the higher-ups. Is the audience really supposed to believe this?
As for the characters themselves: Joseph is a creep. He’s a married man entertaining a young woman with booze and drugs in an inappropriate place. And, the only reason he’s still at the office is because he got stood up by some other woman he was going to cheat on his wife with! (And this is a guy who, by his own admission, is angling to make partner, and doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize his chances. Good luck!) As for Marilyn, she’s a cuckoo. Obviously immature, and emotionally damaged by a troubled past (which, under these circumstances, elicits no more reaction than a yawn), her violent mood swings volley back and forth between brazen flirtations and childish over-reactions. What either of these people see in each other is incomprehensible.
So, what does all of this mean? I honestly don’t know. All I do know is that Girl in Heat’s absence of a discernible theme—something that might pull all of these disparate and random elements together to form a larger, cohesive picture—and the author’s inability to provide enlightening insight into his characters casts this production to a doom-like fate: anyone in the audience who has ever read a book, or seen a play (or who even has a layman’s knowledge of basic psychology) will be able to guess within the first 15 minutes how the whole thing will end.
The performances are equally frustrating. Avidon has a natural, easygoing demeanor that brings some level of believability to the proceedings. But, he’s more focused on being “in the moment” than providing clarity, and, on the whole, his performance is unable to fill in the blanks left by the script. It feels as if he doesn’t want to understand Joseph. As Marilyn, Cheryl Leibert looks completely lost. She seems to lack the emotional range necessary to bring any depth to her role, or the skill to convincingly navigate the mood swings. (I should also mention that there is a third actor mentioned in the program, Theresa Musto, who is listed as playing a character that Joseph and Marilyn talk about, but who never appears on stage. Musto is not, however, listed on any of the press materials. Very confusing.)
Unfortunately, there’s not much here for director Robert Walden to work with. He does his best to keep things interesting and moving at a brisk clip, but the script eventually tells on him. Maya Kaplun’s realistic office set is a high point, as are Hillery Makatura’s lights, which provide the only thematic illumination (no pun intended) in an otherwise lackluster production.