The set-up is all-too familiar: a crazed fan takes their idol hostage. Indeed, I’m Gonna Marry You Tobey Maguire (The Cell, to July 29), directed with a delightfully off-kilter mischief by Tyler Strubble, even references Misery, that famously dripping-in-sadism movie in which Kathy Bates infamously took a sledgehammer to James Caan’s ankles after ‘rescuing’ him from a snowy car accident.
But Samantha Hurley’s witty and unexpectedly moving play imagines more beyond a simple lunatic psycho torture tale—although it definitely has fun flirting with that too, and tweaking our nerves accordingly. It is set in South Dakota in 2004, where Shelby (Tessa Alberston), who is 14, has somehow managed to kidnap Maguire (Scott Thomas), and covertly transport him from Los Angeles to her home basement, where she has chained him to a pipe.
Dressed up in bridal drag, her longterm intentions comingle with her devotion and delusion: he isn’t going anywhere. Janae Robinson plays both Shelby’s unseen mother, upstairs but just as may as well be in another country. Robinson is also a kind of Maguire inner voice or phantom, tormenting him as he starts inhaling large quantities of aerosols to offset the tedium and horror of his enforced captivity. Robinson is also a scene-swiping real estate agent, Brenda Dee Cankles, who alights on Shelby’s secret jail—and we all know what awaits an interloper when they intrude upon a psychopath’s despicable plans.
The surprising thing is, collectively, all the unexpected twists and subtleties accorded to both Shelby and Tobey—and the strange narrative spaces both occupy. Hurley writes in the program, “This is for the girlies who were writing One Direction fan fiction and also for One Direction, hiding in the back of restaurants, spiriting to the car to avoid the aforementioned girlies. This is for anyone who has ever kissed a glossy Tiger Beat or M magazine poster in their room, and this is also for Zac Efron who probably has to put up with a lot of people telling him that they used to kiss posters of him in their room.”
Rodrigo Hernandez’s design and costumes are so acute and perfect they are almost another character. We are absolutely in 2004, its low-slung jeans, crop-tops, and Maguire jousting for roles with Hollywood’s hunkiest finest after his casting as Spider-Man. We are also led downstairs past posters of Maguire from papers and magazines, a blending of real-life and fictional surroundings. A picture from Tiger Beat dominates the space, which features Shelby’s bedroom and the self-made torture chamber she has created for Maguire.
First, he cannot believe where he is, and thinks it must be a producer’s jape, or even a nightmare he can slap himself awake from. Albertson and Thomas sketch the eddying currents of captor and captive perfectly. Both are struggling with parts of their real lives—Shelby seeks the sanction of social popularity with her peers at school, and what being a fan does and doesn’t mean; Maguire nervily considers the terrain of his own popularity and fame. They seethe at each other, toy with each other, lose their minds with each other, and then foggily navigate very different routes out of the situation.
The space is so intimate we see the duo very up close, including as Shelby delivers electric shocks to Maguire’s chained-up body. Albertson’s face is a storm of teenage angst and swings of emotion (and Shelby is also truly crazy, with Albertson just as alarming in the moment as Kathy Bates could be). Thomas shows Maguire’s desperation, but also vanity. Each undermines the other, and then in a very sweet moment dance together in a kind of moment of comfort—two humans capsized and lost—rather than desire.
The play ends as chaotically as its set-up would imply, but in its 90-minute sweep, I’m Gonna Marry You Tobey Maguire does and doesn’t do the things you would expect it to. It toys with all kinds of familiar stereotypes and tropes, then upends them with intelligence and heart through its adept writing and performances. It also features some real shock and gasp moments. Just to ensure there is no misunderstanding, Hurley writes in the program: “This is not a play for Tobey Maguire (sorry baby). **If you’re Tobey Maguire’s lawyer reading this play, plz call me. I can explain!!!!”
Another couple in a complicated dance of personalities and desires take center stage in Theater for a New Audience/Polonsky Shakespeare Center’s production of Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending (to Aug 6). Maggie Siff as Lady Torrance and Pico Alexander as Valentine/Val Xavier play, variously, a no-nonsense shopkeeper and strange musician-loner who share both an understanding and need to escape the confines of not just the stultifying, deeply racist Southern town they are in, but themselves.
It is telling the play in its three acts, takes place in a kind of dusky gloam (David Weiner’s lighting is a design element in its own right); even when the second act is supposed to be in the afternoon, you never feel the warmth or exposure of daylight. Darkness hides, and there is much to hide here.
We know what Lady must escape because the knocks of her sick, aging, cruel-seeming husband Jabe (Michael Cullen) echo horribly loudly and forbiddingly from their upstairs bedroom. Whenever she is about to express herself, the knocks thud like gut punches of lightning from above—commands for her help and symbols of her forced confinement.
There are a satellite cast of other characters in the play, directed by Erica Schmidt, but they are really chattering clutter. Siff gives a mesmerizing masterclass of a performance. She is airily, hilariously commanding—Italian, so a foreigner in both reality and also spirit in this town—at first dismissing Xavier’s obvious flirting. She scythes any passing idiocy, yet takes gruff care of those that need it, particularly the damaged, roughed-up belle Carol Cutere (Julia McDermott).
Just as Siff is nobody’s fool, Val isn’t just the brooding, mysterious lunk he could be (and could be played as), but as determinedly elusive as she is. Over and over again, he shrinks from what people expect of him and from him. Is he a trickster, a stud? He wears a snakeskin cover as armor, then sheds it. Can she free herself from the dry goods store she runs with the same dutiful detachment she also occupies her marriage, both of which she really can’t bear?
Around Lady and Val as they mull possibilities, lust, and escape, the town chunners on with its maddening bigotries and trivialities (Ana Reeder’s Vee stands out with her aspirations to make art—and a brutish husband ready to squash any joy). But the play is really about Lady and Val’s parrying, flirting, and ultimately tragic duet as they attempt a flit from a place of ugly narrowness neither belong in. Doom may await, but the tantalizing grist of Orpheus Descending is in so improbably finding each other, and in everything they share, and say and don’t say.