DECEMBER 2019 | Volume 186
Girlfriend is a sweet and simple gay musical built around some of the songs from Matthew Sweet’s 1991 album of the same title. A two-hander, the play tells the story of two guys in small-town Nebraska in the summer after their high school graduation.
The Fighting Chance production directed by Chris Lam makes the most of the play’s simplicity, staging it on a square platform with the audience on two sides and two musicians (unnamed in the program--guitar, bass, keyboards and drums) on each of the other two sides. The musicians also harmonize with and sing background for the two actors.
They are Julian Galipeau as Will and Scott McGowan as Mike. Will, clearly gay, is surprised when macho football player Mike asks him to a drive-in movie. As Mike continues to pursue--and woo--Will, he continually talks about his girlfriend. But it’s pretty clear from the beginning that she’s a fiction and Mike is courting Will, tentatively, awkwardly.
Eventually … well, as obvious as the outcome may be, I’ll never tell. Doctor’s son Mike will be going off to college in the fall while Will is going to stay home and work in K-Mart. Will love win out?
Their relationship is mostly revealed through the songs, which range from lightweight and relatively banal to the rockin’ title song and the sweet ballad “We’re the Same,” sung by Mike in falsetto, to the strong finale “I Wanted to Tell You.” Both actors have nice voices, especially Galipeau, and both move well to Melissa Sciarretta’s choreography. The performances are quiet understated and charming. Lam’s direction keeps us engaged in.
Todd Almond’s book couldn’t be more minimalist, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. (The show plays at 90 minutes, no intermission.) But there’s very little context provided for the boys’ behavior, especially Mike’s. And apart from one minor reference to a “faggot” catcall, this small midwestern town appears to be as open-minded as can be.Matthew Sweet and Matthew Shepard are galaxies apart.
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