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Becky Shaw

a Comedy/Drama
CATEGORY :
by Gina Gionfriddo

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 3758

SHOWING : August 26, 2010 - September 25, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Newlywed Suzanna fixes her best friend Max up with her husband's beautiful but odd co-worker Becky Shaw. The blind date ignites a fuse that will soon set Becky off in the midst of Suzanna's family. The resulting blast of dysfunctional hilarity has everyone scrambling for cover, but finding none. Hailed by the New York Times as "ferociously funny" and "a big box of fireworks fizzing and popping across the stage," this runaway hit of the 2008-09 New York theatre season was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Freddie Ashley
Prop Master Melisa Dubois
Crew Jennifer Hendrickson
Lighing and Sound Designer Joseph P. Monaghan III
Stage Manager Alicia Quirk
Costume Designer Elizabeth Rasmusson
Suzanna Slater U/S Caleigh Allen
Max Garrett Andrew Benator
Becky Shaw Veronika Duerr
Suzanna Slater Jill Hames
Andrew Porter Tony Larkin
Susan Slater Kathi Welch
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Twisted Relationships
by playgoer
Sunday, September 12, 2010
3.5
Actor’s Express has re-jiggered its performance space for “Becky Shaw.” A thrust stage has been created, surrounded on three sides by the audience. This makes for a crammed, cramped space and some horrible sightlines. Artistic director Freddie Ashley should not have agreed to this theatre redesign, given his apparently limited skills in blocking for such a space. I got quite tired of seeing Jill Hames' back instead of her wonderfully expressive face, and the final moment of the play was lost on me, as two characters faced each other far downstage, faces hidden from my view.

The play itself will not be to everyone's taste. The moral seems to be "lie to preserve love." The Slater family, including adopted son Max Garrett, is dysfunctional with a capital "why?" The recently deceased father may have been leading a secret life, and his widow Susan Slater brings her male companion to a discussion of family finances a mere few months later. Daughter Suzanna is livid, yet wallowing in grief, alternately abetted and abated by the words of adopted brother Max. Add in a time span, Suzanna's marriage to younger professor Andrew Porter, and Andrew's emotionally "delicate" co-worker Becky Shaw, and the complications turn into a tangled spiderweb, as suggested by the web-like design on the moving panels that work as a backdrop for most scenes.

All performances are excellent. Andrew Benator, as Max, has the showiest role, since his character spouts wildly extreme views that provide most of the humor of the piece. Others have extreme views too. Kathi Welch, as the widow Susan Slater, takes on a wisely maternal air as she explains that a woman must tempt as a pedophile uses candy. The sheer outrageousness of statements brings most laughs.

There is a bit of physical humor too. Veronika Duerr, as Becky Shaw, makes the most of trying to sit gracefully in a short, unflattering dress. Aside from that dress, the costumes don't make much of an impression. There are a lot of costume changes, but to little effect other than to suggest the passage of time. The elegantly fashionable sweater of the final costume for Tony Larkin, as Suzanna's husband, Andrew, does seem, however, a bit out of character.

"Becky Shaw" has its moments, and its intricacies of plot and relationships keep interest throughout. All in all, though, it's not an auspicious start to Actor's Express season. If you go, try to sit as close to the center of the stage as possible. Let's hope a more suitable configuration can be found for the physical space for its next production. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Pits of Privacy
by Dedalus
Friday, September 10, 2010
5.0
(Disclaimer: This review is based on a preview performance two days prior to the “official” opening of this show. Respond accordingly.)

Take one nasty and damaged 30-something-year-old money manager and pair him up with a fragile and damaged 30-something-year-old office temp without a pair of dimes to spend. Set them up on a blind date that eventually involves caustic humor, a robbery at gunpoint, bad sex and worse afterglow (afterburn?). Who do you think will break first? The answer may surprise you.

Gina Gionfriddo’s “Becky Shaw” is one of those marvelously unexpected plays that are totally unpredictable, tossing a few deeply realized characters into a situational Cuisinart just to see what comes out. You know it’s a good sign when the intermission feels like an intrusion and the ending comes like an unwelcome guest.

Max Garrett (Andrew Benator) and Suzanna Slater (Jill Hames) grew up in the same house. Suzanna’s father adopted Max after the death of Max’s mother. Now, Suzanna’s father has died and she has fallen into a pit of grief. Max, in his bull-in-the-china-shop way, gets her to get on with her life, and, six months later, she is married a (younger) would-be writer, Andrew Porter (Tony Larkin). In an act of hideous misjudgment, Suzanne and Andrew set up Max on a blind date with Becky Sharp (Veronika Duerr), a co-worker who carries her “damage” like a bow on a birthday present. What follows is an uncomfortable series of events that brings out the worst in everybody, and makes them dive headlong into that “pit of privacy” that is almost a necessity in keeping day-to-day relationships chugging along with their usual dysfunctional abandon.

One of the delights of this play is how facts and memories are gradually revealed in totally organic ways rather than the expected “this is where the exposition goes” trap too many plays fall into. We’re not even sure as to the exact nature of the relationship between Max and Suzanna (Siblings? Spouses? Business Associates?) until a few belated off-hand comments “fill in the blanks”). This is why I hesitate to discuss the specific “damages” the characters carry with them – the playwright WANTS you to be in the position of someone on a “blind date” with them, discovering them as you adamantly keep your own behind the walls of audience anonymity.

This whole “pits of privacy” motif is best summed up when a character makes a pointed analogy about revealing too much about yourself, about the necessity of maintaining a skill at the “white lie” in the face of blunt honesty: “It’s like those television commercials where they take a microscope into your kitchen and show you a lot of germs the naked eye can’t see.” You know they’re there, but you don’t want them rubbed in your face.

Max is an unpleasant character, a man who wields blunt honesty like a weapon. Yet, much of what he says is so darkly funny, so outrageous, that you can’t help but feel a connection to him. When he says “You look like a birthday cake” when Becky arrives for their date a bit overdressed, you can actually see the barbs sink into her. But, Andrew Benator makes Max such a likeable misanthrope, you forgive him literally anything (and, let’s face it, he treats Becky Shaw quite shabbily).

Veronika Duerr’s Becky is also a compendium of neurotic tics and outbursts, but wrapped up in such a charmingly eccentric package that you really root for to find a little steadiness in her life. Jill Hames brings to Suzanna her usual slate of more-going-on-than-meets-the-ear flair and Mr. Larkin gives Andrew a gentleness that makes him a perfect foil for the verbal volleys that seem to fall of his skin like ineffective gumdrops. Kathi Welch rounds out the cast as Suzanna’s MS-afflicted mother, Susan, who, in a few short scenes, creates a marvelous cut-through-the-bull-hooey character who is not afraid to say what she thinks.

And, let’s face it, despite their protestations of blunt honesty and say-what-I-want outrageousness, these characters are hiding a boatload of hurt emotions they don’t acknowledge even to themselves. They do and say harsh things, things that make us laugh and wince at the same time, but, in the end, they hurt themselves far more than they hurt each other.

With this play and with “After Ashley,” Gina Gionfriddo is rapidly becoming one of my favorite contemporary playwrights. (I wish I knew which episodes of “Law and Order” were written by her). She has a penchant for taking a topic everyone agrees with (“Media exploitation of tragedy is bad” in “After Ashley” or “Blind dates are a bad idea” in “Becky Sharp”) and finds ways to show how they are not so straightforward. She creates sharp characters and sharper dialogue that always compels even as it surprises. And she is very good at creating characters who seem, on the surface, unpleasant and nasty, then turning them around so we empathize not only with the histories that lead to the despicable deeds and words, but with those deeds and words themselves. We end up not only understanding why they make the choices they do, but applauding the very choices we initially thought were so despicable.

I know this play will not appeal to all of you, that many of you will not get past the blunt nastiness of Max. But, I found it a scathingly funny (and brutally honest) view of relationships, a compelling story that kept me rooted to be seat in anticipation, and a brilliantly disturbing character mash-up piled onto a brilliant wrestling-rink of a set (kudos, as usual, to Kat Conley’s marvelous design).

As an afterthought, it strikes me that the role of the critic can be similar to that of someone setting you up on a blind date, especially with new plays that you may know nothing about. Yes, I think the two of you will get along fine, but, first, there are some things you may need to know. Of course, if I chose to tell you WHY you’d get along, I may have to tap into that pit of privacy I keep hidden away even from even those of you who know me best,

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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