What prevents the darker parts of masculinity from being expressed? That question is at the heart of Dennis Kelly’s one-woman monologue Girls and Boys. When we meet the lead character (played by Carey Mulligan), she has recently quit her job and has resolved to start the next chapter of her life. She selects a location in which to relocate by dropping a pin randomly on a map and doesn’t hesitate to book the flight. While she’s waiting in line to board the plane, she meets the man that eventually becomes her husband and the father of her two children.
As the plot leaps forward and backward in time, Mulligan delivers the script with the perfect timing of a veteran stand-up comedian. We learn how deeply committed she is to her children and her husband, but a major pivot occurs when her career success eventually outpaces his. First the husband’s violence is emotional, then physical.
The audience knows (or at least can infer) what’s coming due to hints dropped earlier in the performance, but the matter-of-fact manner in which the final acts of violence are described by Milligan underscores their abhorrence.
What struck me about Girls and Boys is the way in which Kelly explores masculinity through the eyes of a woman, and the ways in which he asserts (through his lead female character) that social norms are necessary to put men’s unfettered impulses in check. It also struck me that Kelly has deliberately drawn attention to the ways we talk about violence. After we’ve made sense of it and reframed it, we’re able to detach and recount the most horrific details as though we’re delivering the morning weather report. Girls and Boys doesn’t attempt to answer all of the unanswered questions or resolve all of the loose ends in the the denouement. Instead, it points the audience toward a true north: love after loss is an act of kindness, bravery, and generosity that heals our deepest wounds.