It’s been a while since we’ve seen a bonafide femme fatale onstage—the hard-boiled yet pliable dames who dupe guys and dolls alike without messing up their manicures. That’s why Gina Gionfriddo’s romantic comedy, Becky Shaw, seems retro and fresh at the same time.
The catalyst character of Becky Shaw (Michelle Six, sensationally, silkily duplicitous in the title role) is at once a throwback to the femme fatales of the film noir school and a shocking, modern creation in her own right.
At first blush, Becky doesn’t seem so lethal. Dimpled, approachably pretty, Becky just seems like a hometown girl who is a bit nervous on her first date with Manhattan financial shark Max Garrett (Will Gartshore), a fix-up engineered by Max’s closest friend and quasi-sibling Suzanna Slater (played by Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan with greedy, grasping need) and her new husband Andrew Porter (Rex Daugherty).
The blind date goes from merely awkward to mind-blowingly life-changing for all parties involved—its effects even stretching down South to Suzanna’s ill and domineering mother Susan (Brigid Cleary). As horrible as the first encounter is, Becky seizes it as an opportunity to improve her lot in life.
This may sound familiar to fans of Becky Sharp, the cynical, social-climbing heroine of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Both Becky’s share the same ruthless willfulness and cheek, but Becky Shaw’s readiness to use her victimization as a way to con and blackmail anyone who may prove useful takes mere social ambition to a wickedly pathological level.
And Becky Shaw is as much fun to watch as a Miriam Hopkins melodrama on TCM. It is a sneeringly, brutally funny examination of the dysfunctions and convoluted relationships of the rich as seen by an outsider.
To Suzanna, her dependent and kinda incestuous relationship with Max, who was adopted by her family after his mother’s death, is weird but perfectly normal. That is, if your idea of normal is watching porn in a New York hotel room in bed with someone who is practically your brother.
Max controls Suzanna’s every move through a combination of financial savvy and sarcasm that makes you gasp and giggle. His tongue is a poison dart that never fails to hit its target, seeking out every one of Suzanna’s insecurities and raw spots. She seems incapable of making a decision about anything without him.
Max also holds sway over Susan, and that’s saying something since the mother—as played by Miss Cleary as a seasoned southern belle with claws—is a master of manipulation and deliberate deception herself. Throw in Suzanna’s gentle, indie-rock husband, Andrew, into this lion’s den and it’s a wonder he just doesn’t self-immolate from the sheer savagery of this family’s dynamics.
Closes June 23, 2013
Round House Theatre – Bethesda
4545 East-West Highway
2 hours, 20 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $26 – $53
Tuesdays thru Sundays
What also appeals about Miss Gionfriddo’s play, sharply directed by Patricia McGregor, is its sophisticated ambiguity. Your loyalties constantly shift between the characters. You start out rooting for the sad-sack Suzanna and sympathize with her having a dragon lady for a mother. But then Susan shows, in the second act, a sagacity and candor about the realities of marriage and love that makes her engaging and affecting. Conversely, you love to hate the scornful Max, but then as played with scalding energy by Mr. Gartshore, you see the depth of his love for Suzanna and Susan and how terrible it is for him to bear. Mr. Daugherty’s shambling, accepting Andrew at first seems like a wholly sympathetic character, yet after a while you find his passivity and lack of direction nettlesome.
Becky Shaw is a romantic comedy without the requisite happy ending. As glib and lacerating as the characters are, they come to no easy conclusions or resolutions. Instead, you see a group of people in transition—deciding what to keep and what to let go of—while Becky schemes to find her place among them.
Becky Shaw by Gina Gionfriddo . Directed by Patricia McGregor . Featuring Brigid Cleary, Rex Daugherty, Will Gartshore, Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, and Michelle Six. Scenic designer: Daniel Conway . Costume designer: Katherine O’Neill . Lighting designer: Jedidiah Roe . Sound designer: Eric Shimelonis . Props master: Rebecca Dieffenbach . Stage manager: Bekah Wachenfeld . Produced by Round House Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
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Susan Berlin . TalkinBroadway
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