Girls & Boys by Dennis Kelly

I mentioned before, Audible is now offering two free Audible originals each month to its members.  I see it as an opportunity to try something that is out of my wheelhouse, and maybe even out of my comfort zone.

As with the other offering I selected this month, this one is a one-woman stage play, a monologue easily translated out for the audiobook format.  Unlike my other selection, this one is anything but adorable.  These plays could not have been more opposite in content and emotional impact.

Girls & Boys tells a story that our unnamed narrator says has to be told.  It begins innocently enough.  A chance meeting at an airport in a foreign country leads to a romance, marriage, and a couple of kids.  Life seems good… until it isn’t.  The marriage breaks down in spite of professional success.  At this point, the narrator reminds the audience of two points: the events she’s about to discuss aren’t happening to the audience, and they are not happening now.

I’m not going to spoil the details. 

Suffice it to say, from this moment forward, it’s a horror story that is at once startling in its brutality and terrifying in how easily it could happen in a mundane lifestyle of this kind anywhere in the world.  And that is the entire point.  It’s the sort of tale that makes you realize that no matter how much you think you’re violated by something being said on the internet that requires a trigger warning of some sort, life itself can deliver up something far worse within your own circle of safe space.

Playwright Dennis Kelly is featured in an interview after the play ends, wherein he discusses how the play came together as a desire to explore two different ideas.  The first was simply to write a monologue from the perspective of a woman, a challenge in itself.  The second was to examine domestic violence and how it is disproportionately committed in the world by men.  It’s often seen as a by-product of the society in which we live.  He makes an interesting statement to counterpoint this notion that gave me pause: society was created to limit such violence.  And by and large, that has worked.  For all of the violence we have in the world, it would be so much worse if we found ourselves without the frameworks and social constructs that we’ve created in the name of civilization.  Something new to think about.  At the same time, such an idea is cold comfort when brutality finds its mark.

Carrie Mulligan’s performance is astounding for being so understated.  The play starts out a bit vulgar and shallow, and then gets to be a bit insipid.  But the entire time, she pulls you in, forcing you to wonder just where this is going.  There are sidebars where she’s delivering one side of a conversation with her children about the most everyday sorts of things.  They seem pointless and disconnected.  And then the entire monologue shifts, and the reason behind our narrator’s empty soul is revealed.  It’s vile.  It’s heart-rending.  It’s the sort of thing that makes you as uncomfortable as humanly possible at every level of your being.  It’s an incredibly difficult listen.  Part of that is the writing, part of that is the subject matter, and part of that is undoubtedly the performance in the contrast between moments of warm nostalgia and bitter reality.  Whatever might be perceived about the lighter and possibly insignificant ideas thrown in before, none of it is light or insignificant in retrospect.

This isn’t the kind of thing I’d normally seek out on my own.  This is the kind of thing that quite literally hits you where you live.  Everything about this production is designed for maximum impact.  Accordingly, I can’t tell you I “enjoyed” what I heard.  It’s not that sort of play.  But I can tell you it made me that much more aware.  Two days after I listened to this, I’m still processing it.  I probably will be for a while.  I suspect it will have that kind of impact for anyone who encounters it.

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