Teenage fandom gone wild in ‘I’m Gonna Marry You Tobey Maguire’ at NYC’s cell theatre

In the cell theatre’s world premiere of the zany Y2K farce I’m Gonna Marry You Tobey Maguire, playwright Samantha Hurley takes us into the obsessed psyche of fourteen-year-old eighth-grader Shelby Hinkley, who escapes the realities of her unhappy life in 2004 South Dakota with fanatical fantasies driven by her celebrity crush on the star of the 2002 movie Spider-Man. Directed by Tyler Struble with an eye on the quirky over-the-top non-stop laughs, the offbeat three-hander is not just completely uproarious, but also provides insights into the psychological and emotional trauma that outsiders like Shelby suffer at home, with toxic parents setting the worst possible example, and in school, where they are bullied, ridiculed, and friendless, causing them to act out in completely unexpected and problematic ways. Is any of it real, or is it all just the imaginings of her over-active mind?

Tessa Albertson. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

The wildly entertaining cast is led by the sensational Tessa Albertson (best known for her recurring role on the Paramount+ series Younger), delivering a blockbuster performance as the lovestruck fan-girl Shelby and her para-social relationship with the famous heartthrob, whom she kidnaps and handcuffs to a pole in her basement, with the plan of convincing him to wed (once the Stockholm Syndrome takes hold!). She fully embodies all the teenage rapid-fire energy and angst, youthful dreams and attitudes, girlish voice, facial expressions, and demeanor of her character, while leading an online Tobey Maguire fan club, throwing herself on her bed, screaming, and singing and dancing to the pop hits of the era (including Britney Spears’ “Toxic”) without missing a beat.

Scott Thomas. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Scott Thomas as the abducted, chained, and shaken Tobey proves to be not quite the catch Shelby had anticipated through her devotion to reading everything about him and watching his performances, manifesting his penchant for mind-altering substances and exposing his – lets say unusual – lower parts, in a riotous moment of sexual release (that’s not with his captor, whose advances and marital plan he rejects). He struggles to get free and leave the confines of her stark and dim basement, concerned that he’ll lose his titular role in the upcoming 2004 Spider-Man sequel to a famed competitor if he can’t escape, conjuring his Superhero character, and questioning if the situation is a set-up by one of his actor colleagues, if it’s actually happening, if he’s dreaming, or hallucinating from the inhalants he aggressively snorts.

Janae Robinson. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Rounding out the sidesplitting cast is the fabulous Janae Robinson, appearing in multiple parts (no spoilers here; see for yourself who she plays), changing looks and speech patterns for each, and bringing more outlandish characterizations and plot points to the story, and yet another bizarre twist at the end.

Anderson’s central role is supported by a spot-on funny design that captures the taste and obsession of the girl, with a predominantly pink palette, a collection of vintage toys and dolls (using Barbie and Ken to enact her romantic fantasy as a shadow play behind the curtain), a Hello Kitty quilt, and countless pictures of her idol covering the walls, as she changes from her usual teen wear to a wedding gown, a dress for the school dance, and PJ bottoms patterned with an image of Maguire’s head (set and costumes by Rodrigo Martinez Hernandez, with Anna Fredrick serving as props supervisor).

Scott Thomas and Tessa Albertson. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Lighting by Matt Lazarus and sound by Nina Field enhance the different moods of Shelby’s bedroom and basement, and also evoke the stalker and horror films of the time, with strobe effects, eerie green lighting and blackouts, a glowing TV screen, creepy echoes, and chilling noises. And Struble keeps the show moving, while making use of the entire space, with the characters entering and leaving via the theater’s staircase, going from the bedroom to the basement (with the audience seated on both sides), appearing on the balcony behind an over-sized poster of Maguire from Tiger Beat magazine, and heard from an upstairs room in the house, completely immersing us in the surreal madcap story.

I’m Gonna Marry You Tobey Maguire is everything off-off-Broadway should be – imaginative and original, cutting-edge hilarious, and thoughtfully provocative, with no-holds-barred performances by a terrific cast. Tickets are selling fast, so get yours while you can.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, without intermission.

I’m Gonna Marry You Tobey Maguire plays through Saturday, July 29, 2023, at 338 West 23rd Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $25-50), go online. Masks are not required.


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