The title isn’t particularly alluring, but I’m sure glad I caught the Shelterbelt Theatre’s “Psycho Ex Girlfriend,” which opened last weekend.
An original script by Omaha playwright Beaufield Berry looks past the stereotype of the clinging, possessed or delusional date who will not be brushed off by addressing a simple question: What made her that way?
Berry and director Beth Thompson strike a tricky balance in presenting a character who isn’t particularly likable. They employ humor to take the edge off some fairly obnoxious behavior and — this is key — ultimately call for personal responsibility and growth to get past a blame game.
The play follows Britte (Katie Beacom Hurst), starting at age 14, through a long string of relationships that end badly, if they get off the ground at all, through early high school, college and young professional life.
Britte’s parents split when she was a baby. Her mother, the ultimate bad role model, goes through a chain of boyfriends at least as long as Britte’s. Mom’s dating advice to her daughter: Be whoever the guy wants you to be, not who you are.
Mom is a lush with rock-bottom self-esteem.
That sends Britte looking for love in a lot of wrong places, starting at an age when she thinks watermelon lip balm is the key to catching a guy. Badly behaved men add to the broken edges.
The high school jock who uses her, the Italian guy who ends up marrying one of her best friends, the married college prof on the prowl, even a gal pal with a serious crush — Britte’s been there.
Along the way she develops a taste for mistrust and vengeance, more than a little desperation and a lack of belief in what she has to offer. Hurst bravely takes this character to dark places that at times leave the audience unsympathetic. In fact, she becomes so unlikeable that you’ll question why a decent guy would give her a second chance. It’s the play’s least credible plot point.
“Is it so wrong just to want to know what it’s like to be loved by a man?” she implores the audience toward the end of Act 1. That’s one of several effective moments when we are taken past comic relief to visit this character’s pain.
One of the best things about “Psycho Ex” is watching Katlynn Yost and Kaitlin McClincy take on a wide range of supporting roles, while Nick LeMay plays the eyebrow-raising list of Britte’s boyfriends with admirable character separation and nuance.
Yost is particularly effective as Britte’s mom and as a bride who calls her on her inexcusable behavior. McClincy impresses in cameos as Mom’s boyfriends, but she’s most howlingly funny as a needy waitress. She also draws real empathy as the lesbian with a crush.
Pacing is brisk as characters change costumes before our eyes, drawing props and clothing out of two black trunks that double as the only furniture.
The show feels just a tad long at two hours plus intermission. Still, Thompson and Berry offer insight about the dating game from a woman’s perspective, while holding their audience with strong character work and generous dollops of humor.
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