Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

Cutting to the Chase - Reflections on the Mating Game

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

by Deanie Vallone

Birds have the most extraordinary mating rituals. Bald eagles, for instance, will fly high in the air, lock talons, and then drop, spiraling downward faster and faster until, at the very last minute before impact, they'll release each other. The relationship of Jane and Tim-the GF coupleprotagonists of Irish playwright Christian O'Reilly's love story, THE GOOD FATHER-is equal parts risky, whirlwind, and beautiful. The play's opening, in which lawyer Jane and painter Tim (more Ace Hardware than Claude Monet) meet at a New Year's Eve party, brings to mind such rom-com classics as BRIDGET JONES' DIARY, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY.

Humans, if they were a species of birds, would most likely be the dodo. With the absurdity of our own "mating rituals," it's a miracle our species has survived this long. We all know "the game," the series of calculated moves, phrases, appearances, and actions dictated by our specific culture that inform the way we interact with and court a potential mate. The assumed rules are ever changing, which only adds to their complexity. While men used to be the primary initiators, it's now more common and even expected for women to pursue men first. We are surprised, but pleased when Jane boldly says to Tim, "What are you doing for sex tonight?" She cuts to the chase.

But this directness isn't typical of humans, even Jane. There are rules about approaching a potential partner: eye contact and physical flirting first, then the slow approach, then subtle hints in the form of a bought drink or an invitation to dance (Tim tries both!). Even the clothes we wear speak volumes before we open our mouths. In a hilarious rant, Jane details all the subtle-not-so-subtle moves one makes to attract another. "I'm the butterfly who wants to get trapped in the web," she says.

With all of the hassle and side-stepping that goes into courting, we sometimes have to stop and ask ourselves if there's any point in it. Jane sums the issue up quite nicely: "...don't you think it would be healthier if people just cut to the chase?" Certainly it works for her: she and Tim go home together that night. But as we see throughout THE GOOD FATHER, finding and maintaining love isn't just about being able to perfect "the game." No matter how well we think we are adhering to social standards or cleverly defying them, it's impossible to prepare for the emotional realities love brings.

But why? Why can't we just cut to the chase? As we see in THE GOOD FATHER, Jane and Tim are openly honest with each other in many ways-sometimes veering into the TMI category on Tim's part-yet their relationship still has emotional baggage and secrets. Though we may act like dodos on occasion, humans aren't animals. Birds have no feelings to be hurt, nor egos to crush. Humans, if they were to be avian at all, might be eggs: tiny, fragile creatures encased by shells that seem strong until one tries to crack them. Then they crumble. As THE GOOD FATHER progresses, Jane and Tim's candor only serves to mask deeper, more emotional truths. The directness they both display is their eggshell, protecting the truer parts of themselves.

When it comes to mating, birds take risks; they show off their physical beauty; they bring gifts. Though their rituals are incredibly straightforward in their intentions-certainly the females aren't questioning why the males are showing off-the rituals must still be performed. Humans are the same. Men may understand why Jane is "catching someone's eye in the pub," why she's "all dressed up." Both parties are aware of the intentions of the other, but they still must follow the steps of the dance. We need to know that another is worth our time, that we're worth theirs. That they have qualities we admire. Do we find each other attractive? Is he interested enough to pursue me, even if I'm not paying attention to him? When she laughs at my jokes, is it genuine?

THE GOOD FATHER, at its core, is about two people learning how to break away from "the game," learning how to stop treating love as a game at all. The most remarkable aspect of O'Reilly's play is watching Tim and Jane slowly chip away at each other's shells, revealing not a fragile creature inside, but a fully formed bird.

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