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Theater Review: “Girlfriend”

“Girlfriend” plays through October 20, 2019 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard in University Heights.
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

Cast your mind back to 1993 and those mixtape days when cassettes were king. Then pretend you’re in tiny Alliance, Nebraska, where you’ve just graduated from high school and you’re wondering what comes next.

Will (Shaun Tuazon) is wondering, anyway. He opens his backpack, picks up his high school textbooks, and one by one dumps them unceremoniously in the trash, because he’s now “liberated.”

He’s also gay, broke, hasn’t applied to college and doesn’t know what he’ll do next. But “this year,” he tells us, “I resolve to drop my bad habit of learning things.” (As a librarian, this makes me sad, but – alas – it’s not an unfamiliar attitude.) Will comes from a broken home where money does not flow easily and college has not even been considered.

The future is already decided for Mike, a handsome, popular jock type who carefully packs his textbooks in a box. His dad is a doctor who expects his son to follow in his footsteps – and Mike can’t wait to get away from him. Though he doesn’t cherish the notion of med school, Mike will certainly be going off to college soon.

But there’s an undeniable mutual attraction between the outgoing Mike and the usually-inconspicuous Will. And on this particular day, they both put the same mixtape on.

But small-town Nebraska in the early ‘90s is not the place to be seen in a gay romantic relationship. Mike is especially aware of this, because he plays pickup baseball with the guys, who freely hurl the “Faggot!” insult at anyone not like them. For this reason, he has acquired a cover – a “girlfriend,” or so he describes her to people (like his father) who ask nosy questions.

Diversionary Theatre begins its 34th season with the local premiere of Todd Almond and Matthew Sweet’s charming pop-rock musical “Girlfriend” through Oct. 20, wonderfully directed by Stephen Brotebeck.

Based on Sweet’s hit 1991 album, this show has it all – a sweet story, perfect songs, two actors ideal for their parts, and a killer four-member band led by Kyrsten Hafso-Koppman (who also plays keyboard).

Whether you’re gay or straight, you can’t help but pull for this engaging pair as they try to navigate the rocky waters of anti-gay bias and carve out a future as a couple.

Cusimano’s amusing exasperation as Mike tries to get away from his father is complemented by Tuazon’s charm and excitement at finding the right partner. I would like to know a bit more about what happens to Will when Mike goes off to college, but the show as it plays is lovely.

Kudos to Hafso-Koppman and her fine combo, who provide music and an occasional backup group for the stars from their spot on stage right.

If, like me, you’re looking for a positive story right about now. “Girlfriend” fills that bill nicely.

The details

“Girlfriend” plays through October 20, 2019 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard in University Heights.

Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.