Carey Mulligan often seems on the verge of tears. There’s something about the way her eyes glisten under stage lights that puts a lump in your throat. Or maybe it’s that the British actress takes on psychologically raw roles—onstage and onscreen—that demand emotional openness. In the play Girls & Boys, at Minetta Lane Theatre through July 22, Mulligan’s character recounts a marriage and family. She has ample reason to cry, but never does; it’s her most shattering role, and her most restrained performance, to date.
I want to avoid any spoilers, since the power of playwright Dennis Kelly’s funny but ultimately harrowing play is the slow build of details until you get to a dark place from which there’s no return. Girls & Boys is, on the surface, a memory piece about a relationship. An unnamed woman talks about how she went from a “drinky, druggy, slaggy phase” into an unexpected courtship with a man she meets in line at the airport. He imports foreign custom furniture; she seeks a career in film production. They begin an intense affair, settle down, start a family, and tend to their work. You know, regular life stuff. In between sections delivered to the audience, she mimes scenes with her young daughter and son on a dreamy blue set.
The drama of this 105-minute piece starts to kick in a little over halfway through, as we learn that the husband’s business has begun to crater, and he ends up bankrupt, depressed, and playing video games on the couch all day. The love between the couple sours into contempt and loathing. She files for divorce and means to have custody of the children. He, with terrifying intensity, tells her, “You are never taking my kids from me, understand?”
As the title makes clear, this is a play about gender—specifically how toxic masculinity has caused so much misery in the world. It’s brutal stuff, but trust me: Mulligan’s winsome and wise performance and Kelly’s vivid, engrossing script make the journey into darkness as thrilling as it is scary.
Why You Should Go: For great storytelling and acting in one spot, you can’t beat this limited summer engagement.
Girls & Boys
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane (between MacDougal Street and Sixth Avenue), Greenwich Village
Through Sunday, July 22