Tessa Albertson | Photo: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Juan A. Ramirez
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July 14, 2023 9:50 AM

Before TikTok and Instagram mandated cyber-performance to be sexy, and before Twitter rewarded sass, there was just deeply, deeply embarrassing online behavior. It was a provincial time for the Internet’s wild wild west, especially for fans, who were still pinning magazine spreads to their bedroom walls while learning how to add themes to their MySpace pages. Earnestness wasn’t exactly en vogue, but at least no one was looking, so the web was littered with heartfelt lip-syncs and emo poems.

I’m Gonna Marry You Tobey Maguire, a very funny new play by Samantha Hurley, brings this era of mortifying 2000s attitudes out of that would-be forgotten abyss through the character of Shelby Hinkley, an obsessive 14-year-old girl who kidnaps and lock the titular star, hot off the success of the first Spider-Man film, in her basement. Played with wild audacity in a terrific comic performance from Tessa Albertson, Shelby is a bundle of unfortunately relatable pubescent nerves. She’d never kidnap just a random guy, “that’s so bad!” But the guy on whose favorite ice cream Tiger Beat keeps her informed is fair game, and the all-American girl goes for what she wants.

Janae Robinson | Photo: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Her mom, we’re told in one of Hurley’s many memorable lines, is “four xanax, two Yoplaits deep, watching Jerry Springer,” so Shelby’s free to roam Rodrigo Hernandez’s inventive set, which places her fuzzy-pink bedroom upstage and the audience on either side of the dingy cellar in which Tobey (Scott Thomas) is trapped. Hernandez and director Tyler Struble implicate the audience, turning us into members of the fan club of whose North American/Antarctic branch Shelby is founder, president, and activities director. To get in, one must walk up the Cell Theater’s side stairs, past more publicity shots of Maguire than anyone knew existed, and back down into the stan’s netherworld.

Hurley and Albertson take Shelby’s budding sexuality seriously—this certainly wasn’t the first time those Barbies of hers have been spread-eagled—while still finding ways to clown it. But the call refreshingly comes from within the house, and the play strikes a steady balance of low-stakes fun with high-cringe recognition, with some nice insight along the way.

Scott Thomas and Tessa Albertson | Photo: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

It’s hard to describe the roles Janae Robinson plays—sometimes it’s the unseen mother’s voice, sometimes the materialization of the poster to which Shelby speaks—but she finishes as a real estate agent named Brenda Dee Cankles. Her clacking acrylics and ridiculous bob steal the show, and a gag involving a mannequin stakes a fair claim to eliciting the biggest laughs out of a New York audience this year.

The show is scheduled for a short run, and in a small theater, but if Albertson and Robinson continue delivering Hurley’s work with this much wattage, it might just unchain itself from its Cell and gut-punch a larger audience.

I’m Gonna Marry You Tobey Maguire is in performance through July 29, 2023 at the Cell Theatre on West 23rd Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.

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Juan A. Ramirez

Juan A. Ramirez writes arts and culture reviews, features, and interviews for publications in New York and Boston, and will continue to do so until every last person is annoyed. Thanks to his MA in Film and Media Studies from Columbia University, he has suddenly found himself the expert on Queer Melodrama in Venezuelan Cinema, and is figuring out ways to apply that.

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