In the opening scene of Have I Got a Girl for You, the audience sees no actors on stage, but hears only a voice – the voice of a Jewish mother leaving a message on her son’s answering machine, telling him to find a respectable job. Her son is Josh Mesnik, a recovering alcoholic looking for work in South Florida, and the first job that he lands probably wasn’t what his mother had in mind when she told him to find a decent link of work. Josh finds himself working as a receptionist at a female escort agency.
It may be useful to point out that Josh Mesnik is the protagonist’s name, but it is also the actor’s name as well. Mesnik is, in other words, playing himself, making no bones about the fact that this play is largely autobiographical (he’s also the play’s writer).
It was a brave thing for Mesnik to do; to write a play that addresses his own struggles with addiction and the unusual job that he pursued during his days in recovery. But Mesnik never dwells on the morbidity of such matters, even if they do come up rather often. No, Mesnik is far more interested in showcasing his acerbic wit, which often results in a play that is delightfully irreverent.
After the opening scene with the voice message, Mesnik is interviewing for a job at the escort service with Gina (Eileen Faxas), the company’s madam in charge. He’s rather shocked when he actually gets the job; he can’t imagine how a gay man like himself would be able to arrange liaisons between men and women.
But that’s exactly what he does, and though he fumbles a few times at the beginning, he finds that he has a real knack for his line of work, and even develops some close friendships with a number of women employed by the service.
The most amusing and significant relationship is that between Mesnik and Ellen (Kim Morgan Dean, who plays all the women in the escort service), a New York Jewish lesbian who joins the service because of its financial benefits. As Ellen herself points out, she doesn’t need to be attracted to men in order to sleep with them, and the money is still good either way. Though they never meet in person, Mesnik and Ellen decide to start their own escort service, but in order to do so, they will need to sabotage and ultimately dissolve Gina’s business.
Sara Sahin’s fast-paced, slapstick-style direction works well, for the most part, with Mesnik’s irreverent, energetic dialogue. But the play seems to rely far too heavily on telephone conversations as a way of advancing its story. As is the case with Mesnik and Ellen, characters almost never have face-to-face interactions with each other, since many of them are in different parts of the country. This dynamic underscores the impersonal and shallow nature of the business Mesnik has chosen, but from a narrative standpoint, it can get a little confusing, especially when several characters are played by a single person. For example, every male character, with the exception of Mesnik himself, is played by Jonathan Seymour, while every female character, with the exception of Gina, is played by Dean. It takes some time to keep track of who’s who, but audiences should have it all straightened out halfway through.
It’s also worth pointing out that this play is by no means morally reassuring. Almost every important character is thoroughly despicable, and remains so even by the end. Mesnik, through Ellen’s conniving encouragement, becomes a shrewd, calculating businessman who will do whatever it takes to get his own business going, all while backstabbing Gina without her knowing…or so he thinks.
Gina soon learns about everything Mesnik has been up to, and it culminates in a wild screaming match. By this point in the play, both characters have proven themselves so empty and unfeeling that audiences will probably have no vested interest in Mesnik or Gina, when the two proceed to fight. Gina couldn’t care less when she finds out that Mesnik signed up her own daughter as one of the female escorts. Life isn’t like one of the musicals he’s obsessed with, says Gina, explaining to Mesnik why she suffers no meltdown upon learning this bit of news.
The play itself tries to adopt Gina’s point of view, suggesting that life is not like a naïve musical; it’s much grittier, more “realistic.” But this play’s vision of realism stipulates that people are irredeemably reprehensible. The final scene shows a now-jobless Mesnik at an AA meeting, discussing what he has learned about himself during his recovery process. As Mesnik puts it, he can easily be as cruel, destructive, and selfish while sober as he can while drunk. Since this play is semi-autobiographical, I can only hope that Mesnik wrote this line for a certain dramatic impact, though I must admit, its impact was lost on me. But if this is all Mesnik has learned, in real life, from his alcoholism and subsequent recovery, then to be sure, he has not learned anything of great value.
Have I Got a Girl for You had a return run at the Soho Playhouse as part of NYC’s Fringe Festival.