Girls & Boys

by Lynn on January 30, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person presented by Here for Now Theatre, in association with Crow’s Theatre, at the Studio Theatre, Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, Toronto, until Feb. 12, 2023.

Written by Dennis Kelly

Directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson

Lighting and sound by Stephen Degenstein

Costumes and set by Bonnie Deakin

Cast: Fiona Mongillo

Note, I saw this magical, gripping production this summer at Here for Now Theatre in Stratford. I am delighted that Crow’s Theatre has brought it here to Toronto for another viewing. I am reprinting my review from the summer, with inserted new comments.

Astonishing in every single way. Fiona Mongillo has deepened her performance with more nuance and controlled brightness. It’s a performance that will have you holding your breath for all of it and then will leave you breathless by the end.

The Story. The Programme says it all without telling the secrets: “An unexpected meeting at an airport leads to an intense, passionate, head-over-heels relationship. Before long they begin to settle down, buy a house, juggle careers, have kids—theirs is an ordinary family.

But then their world starts to unravel and things take a disturbing turn.

Note: Girls & Boys is intended for a mature audience and contains graphic descriptions of violence.”

The Production. Bonnie Deakin has designed a simple white set. There is a large white comfortable chair on the stage floor stage right. There is a squat white round table beside it on the stage floor. There is a glass of water on the table. To the left of the chair and table is a raised, large, white square platform.

Our narrator, who is never named, is played with controlled brilliance by Fiona Mongillo. The play starts with a kind of shock–the lights go up from black and there she is center stage on the platform, her hands in the pockets of her jumpsuit, smiling, waiting for us. I didn’t see the door to the theatre open to let her in. She just appeared ‘out of the black’ noiselessly. Startling and yet now. For the most of the play she stands on the raised platform telling us the story.  

Our narrator details how she was at the airport, in line to check in to go on vacation to Italy. She was rather aimless at the time, not ambitious in work but looking for a good time in Italy. She describes the man in line in front of her, reading a book. He is never named either. Two women, who are described as models, sidled up to him to chat him up and therefore maneuver from where they were at the back of the line, to getting ahead in the line. Our narrator watched at the cheek of the two models and the coolness of the man reading. He knew what was happening. He knew he was being played by these two women and he called them out. He did it in a quiet, thoughtful, direct way. This impressed our narrator no end.  

Next scene,  our narrator is talking to her two children: Leanne and Danny. Danny is younger but both are young enough to challenge their Mother at every turn; about going to bed; about whose toy is whose; about Danny teasing his sister and the Mother trying to keep some kind of control.

Our Narrator is very proud of her now husband and his resourcefulness in business—he sells wardrobes and has found a clever way of making that business pay. He in turn seems to be proud of his wife and cheers her on at every turn. Our Narrator applied for a job in documentary films, that she was sure she was not going to get, but was bold and resourceful in her own right and got the job.

Our Narrator often has conversations with her children. The daughter is accommodating. The  son seems into the violence of the culture—guns etc. The husband’s business was thriving and then there was trouble in the business. We listen, rapt, because of the controlled, compelling way Fiona Mongillo is telling the story.

Fiona Mongillo is recounting the whole breadth of her relationship with this intriguing man she met in an airport line, to getting married and having children to success in business for the both of them, to the unravelling, startling end. One of the many astonishing things about Fiona Mongillo’s performance is that she never telegraphs the less than happy end of the play. So often I’ve seen this in other plays with many other actors, but not here. Not once.

Mongillo goes through Dennis Kelly’s detailed, complex story as if she is reliving every event as if for the first time. There is joy and curiosity as our Narrator recounts the arrogance of the two models who want to get further up in line and will “use” this “innocent” man for their purposes; then he quietly puts these women in their place. Our Narrator sees the value of the character of the man and is further intrigued. Mongillo is buoyant, smiling and almost still in the telling. We don’t need endless movement to engage us. We ‘just’ need a gifted actor who knows the power of the playwright’s words and how to say them that grips the audience.

Mongillo is beautifully partnered by director Lucy Jane Atkinson who is a master of the nuance and subtlety of the piece. There is not one second of showy direction, just the careful, quiet, attention to the detail in the words.

When the Narrator is dealing with her children it is as a carrying Mother who bends down or gets down on all fours to talk to her children on their level. She is not showing them a stance of power by standing over them. She is facing them head on, dealing with them as a concerned parent. There is that give and take between parent and child that is fascinating. The Mother wants them to go to bed now. The kids want to negotiate. As the Mother, Mongillo is careful, patient, controlled, loving, and perhaps trying to give the children what they might want, but still ‘controlling’ the narrative. Fascinating.

The audience is given information during the telling, late in the play that is unsettling. The unravelling begins. It’s not done in a rush, but as controlled as the telling before. This time, the buoyant smile of Mongillo is not there, but she is as compelling because of the calmness of the telling of what happened. Astonishing play and production. Mongillo is such a gifted actor. I found that with this production Mongillo’s Narrator continues in the moment and it’s more emotional, but not distracting from the story.  

Comment. Here for Now Theatre has produced bracing, compelling theatre since it has begun producing this summer festival in Stratford, Ont. Girls & Boys is one of the best they have done, and they have done some pretty fine work. Crow’s Theatre continues to be a leader in this city for producing or co-producing challenging, engaging theatre. There are notices that comment on the content, that it might be challenging to some audience members. Girls & Boys is brilliant theatre with a towering performance by Fiona Mongillo.

Here for Now Theatre in association with Crow’s Theatre presents:

Plays until: Feb. 12, 2023

Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission).

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