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BECKY SHAW, comedy of bad manners, marvelous at Dobama

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Gina Gionfriddo, the author of BECKY SHAW, now on stage at Dobama Theatre, is one of the new breed of playwrights who reflect topics relevant to today, cleverly construct their writings, and uses language that shimmers with naturalism.  They don’t use stage language or formats like Arthur Miller or Eugene O’Neill, or the oft-present symbolism of Tennessee Williams, nor the existential philosophy of Edward Albee.  Gionfriddo, along with such modernists as Neil LaBute and Rajiv Joseph, push the envelope, using real people interacting to highlight their foibles and weaknesses.

Gionfriddo’s BECKY SHAW finds a group of people in a tangled tale of love, sex and ethics, in what might be called a comedy of manners, bad manners.  The play has been described as being “like a big box of fireworks, fizzing and crackling across the stage.”

Four of the characters are self-centered, dysfunctional, disingenuous manipulators.  Each is determined to get what s/he wants by playing with the feelings of others in order to get personal gain, and not being concerned about how they may be destroying others.

We quickly find in BECKY SHAW that Max Garrett, the “adopted” son in the Slater family, is a straight-talking, blunt, arrogant, power controlling, financially successful thirty-something.  Single, he seems emotionally attached to only one person, his “sister,” Lara.  He has little success in the dating world, having had only one relationship that lasted more than three months.

He has been set up on a blind date with Becky, by Lara and her husband, Andrew.  Becky, who works with Andrew, shows up overdressed for what is supposed to be a casual dinner, and immediately conflicts with Max.  Only angst can follow!  And, how it does.

Andrew, who seems to have a fetish for vulnerable women, has already “saved” Suzanna and is presently enabling Becky.

Toss into the mix Susan Slater, Suzanna and Max’s needy mother, who is engaged in a “rent-a-boy” relationship and there are all the ingredients for a biting, entertaining evening of theatre.

Dobama’s production,  under the steady direction of Donald Carrier, is well paced, the characters clearly etched, the production totally effective.  Aided by the excellent dialogue, his believable characterizations key the audience to laugh at the pain of others, and then realize they should be embarrassed at that which is causing the laughter.

Geoff Knox’s Max is so realistically arrogant, complete with thrust out jaw, so clearly self-centered, that one can only admire his “chutzpa,” while wanting to hit him up-side his egotistical head.  Showing off his gym toned body in a skin tight latex shirt is as natural to Max as is his lack of realizing that his comments to others are mean-spirited and more destructive than constructive.

Lara Knox creates a Suzanna who is so needy that one only wonders what she has learned in her studies as a doctoral student in psychology.  Her emotional highs and lows could serve as a classic case study in bipolar behavior.

Laura Starnik is completely natural and real as the self-aware and self-centered Susan.  She believes she deserves her version of happiness, and nothing, including diminished wealth and MS, is going to stop her from having it.

Andrew Porter so perfectly creates Ryan, a person so good, so in emotional control that one can only wonder what the real Ryan must be like, when he is not on self-induced mental tranquilizers.

And then there is Becky Shaw!  Anjanette Hall doesn’t just portray the needy and manipulative, she is Becky.   She delivers lines with such ease that she sucks the audience in, makes us feel sorry for her, then slams us with reality statements that make us aware that we’ve been “had.”  What an adorable vixen Hall creates.

Scenic designer Cameron Caley Michalak created a play with numerous settings in basically a one-set space.  He creates different places through the use of well painted, framed illustrations of the specific places in which the scenes take place.  Thus we are transported from New York to Philadelphia to Richmond to a coffee shop by having a spotlight shine on the painting which illustrates where we are.   Clever!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ah, if only every night at the theater could be like this!

Gina Gionfriddo has written a play that is both fun and thought provoking.  It gets a marvelous production at Dobama.  This is theatre at its best.  The director, the cast, and the technical staff all deserve kudos!!!

BECKY SHAW runs through March 29 2015 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.