note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Playwright Gina Gionfriddo was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her off-Broadway, sophisticated black comedy play, “Becky Shaw,” and it’s easy to see why. The characters are interesting, their dialogue laced with sardonic wit, while carping at each other, yet loving each other, despite their quirks and folly.
Huntington Theatre Artistic Director Peter DuBois captures the finest in this talented quartet of complicated thirtysomethings, who trade barbs faster than a tennis match. Thrown into the mix is Susan Slater, an older woman, whose twisted philosophy of life and love is tempered by her soured marriage and her affliction with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The title, “Becky Shaw,” is slightly misleading, as is the pre-show hype that describes its plot about “a blind date gone bad in this tale of love, sex, and ethics about thirtysomethings,” set in 2009. It’s much more than that. Perhaps needy character Becky Shaw is a catalyst to the climax, but the play has more depth and its characters’ shortcomings are more complex, interactive, and psychological. The play also delivers a probing look at today’s needy, selfish, self-possessed, shallow society.
Seth Fisher is superbly acerbic as 36-year-old Max Garrett, an irritating, overbearing, bullying money manager and a “short-timer” in romantic relationships. Maureen Anderman delivers rapier wit and sophistication as widowed Susan Slater, who is slim and attractive, despite her advancing MS. She has captured a younger ne’er-do-well boyfriend, whom she supports financially. Keira Naughton shines as Susan’s needy daughter, Suzanna, a Ph.D. student in psychology who consults her therapist for self-help; Eli James is patient and thoughtful as Suzanna’s husband and aspiring writer, Andrew Porter; and Wendy Hoopes delightfully rounds out the cast as Andrew’s quiet, lonely, 35-year-old co-worker, Becky Shaw, whom Andrew unwittingly fixes up with Max on a blind date, reaping repercussions.
Scenic designer Derek McLane has created a handsome set with movable panels, that quickly convert from Susan’s handsome home in Richmond, Va., to Max’s sleek hotel room in New York City and Susanna’s and Andrew’s modest apartment in Providence; another NYC hotel room and a Starbucks, with high stools and overhead lighting. David Weiner’a lighting and Walter Trarbach’s sound design enhance mood changes; and Jeff Mahshie’s costumes highlight the characters’ personalities, from Suzanna’s penchant for wearing black to prolong her grieving for her deceased dad; Becky Shaw’s unfortunate, self-conscious attempt to look dressed up for her date with Max; Andrew’s earthy, natural attire; Max’s sleek, businesswear; and Susan’s casual chic. As Suzanna and Becky evolve towards reaching self-actualization, Gionfriddo’s razor-sharp dialogue and DuBois’ perfectly-timed action makes “Becky Shaw” a first-rate production.
BOX INFO: Two-act play, written by Gina Gionfriddo,directed by Huntington Theatre Artistic Director Peter DuBois, appearing at the Huntington’s Mainstage, Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston, now through April 4. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, at 8 p.m., select Sundays at 7 p.m.; with matinees on select Wednesdays, Saturday and Sundays at 2 p.m. Days and times vary. Tickets are $20-$82.50, with senior and military discounts of $5; subscriber and BU Community discounts of $10; 35 Below tickets for patrons 35 and younger, $25; back row of balcony seats, $20; and student rush seats, $15. Call 617-266-0800, visit huntingtontheatre,org, the BU Box Office, or the Calderwood Pavilion at BCA Box Office, 527 Tremont St., Boston.