Published March 7, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor
Lyric Theatre’s Oklahoma premiere musical Girlfriend is a coming of age story about two recent high school graduates falling in love. It’s typical in every way that love stories are. There are nerves, first kisses, awkward silences, and shared mixtapes. It’s young love at its finest, most recognizable moments. What’s not so expected is that this isn’t a regular boy-girl post high school story. The two lovers at the center are both men, and that brings a refreshing, unexpected turn of events to the stage. New love is a universal experience that immediately brings back memories for anyone who has ever been young or in love, gay or straight. Set to the early 90s album by Matthew Sweet of the same title, Girlfriend reminds audiences that the normal experience of figuring out yourself, finding your way, getting your heart broken and repaired again is a feeling we can all relate to.
Jimmy Mavrikes is reprising his role as Will, whom he played in the D.C. production of Girlfriend at Signature Theatre. Mavrikes was recently nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for the role, a prestigious honor in the D.C. arts community. Mavrikes is the narrator and the one who has a crush on his friend Mike, played by Ian Marcontell.
Marcontell portrays the perfect jock. He’s popular, a baseball star, set to go to college and become a brain surgeon. This is the 90s in Nebraska, however, and being openly gay just isn’t a common thing in this timeframe. Mavrikes as Will is sure of who he is. He’s confident and hopeful, then becomes hesitant, not sure of his relationship with Mike. The two work out the awkwardness of figuring out their relationship in cute and charming ways, like calling each other, going to the movies, hanging out and becoming closer friends.
Mavrikes carries the weight of knowing he’s in love with his friend who may or may not love him back. Marcontell has a fear with him, one that doesn’t come with typical straight relationships. Unable to simply feel his feelings, for worry about ridicule from family and friends, Mike is at times resistant and unaccepting of Will.
These two actors handle that tension with thoughtful sensitivity that is innocent and emotionally provocative. Anyone who’s ever felt marginalized because of who they love will recognize the feeling instantly. Likewise, anyone who hasn’t experienced it in more socially accepted relationships will immediately feel that burden. It’s a heavy, powerful message that is important to convey.
Music fills the gaps when Mike and Will can’t find the words for what they want to say. They bond over their love for it, and play it for each other when moments get tough. This is real life reflected in art. Everyday life isn’t always filled with perfect philosophy and intelligent wit. Sometimes, you know what you want to say, but not how to say it. Sometimes you just can’t talk at all. When that happens, music can serve as the perfect way to convey true feelings. The soundtrack of their lives is the Matthew Sweet album, shown in a new light as a way to relate and communicate with each other.
The rock band set behind them in the sound booth is comprised of members Britt Bonney, Taylor Yancey, Susannah Leonard, and Bat-or Kalo. The ladies in the band can really rock and set the mood for this love story. Expert direction by Matthew Gardiner creates a dynamic between the actors and the band that makes them all constantly aware of each other. The band represents the music that is always in their heads, a thread that binds the two in their newfound love.
One of the best things about this sweet show is the chemistry between Mavrikes and Marcontell. There are several quiet moments between them. When they’re not rocking out to their favorite album, or chatting on the phone, they’re sitting next to each other, closely and intimately. You can watch them falling in love, and it’s in those quiet times that the poise of these actors is shown. Silence is hard to convey on stage. It can be awkward, with an expectation of dialogue. But sitting in their own silence, however brief, is where these actors shine. It’s not awkward, but natural. Then, when they do speak, or touch, it’s electric. The fire between them is authentic and sets hearts aflutter. It’s true love, and it sparks joy to watch.
Mavrikes has puppy dog eyes that will melt any heart, and Marcontell keeps up the tough guy façade just long enough to convince you it’s not really how he feels. These two leading men are gentle with each other and understanding of this story. They’re champions of the deeper message, that love is always something to celebrate, dance to, and sing about. And the experience of first love, no matter who you are, is something worth remembering.