In Gina Gionfriddo’s brilliant comedy Becky Shaw, newlyweds Suzanna (Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan) and Andrew (Rex Daugherty) want to share their marital bliss with the world, or, at the very least, put aside their unresolved issues long enough to introduce her old friend Max (Will Gartshore) to his coworker Becky (Michelle Six).
It’s hard to imagine a more mismatched pair than Becky and Max. He’s a hard-charging Gordon Gekko clone who may still have the hots for Suzanna. She’s a melancholy ditz who works in Andrew’s office as a temp. In less adroit hands, this play could descend into sitcom levels of predictability. But Gionfriddo has created complex characters and moral ambiguities that belie the comic setup.
Is Becky a needy naif or a spider masquerading as a fly? Is sensitive Andrew just tenderhearted or mainly invested in his self-image as a savior of women in distress? Are Suzanna and Max too tied up in their own neurotic relationship to untangle the mess that Becky creates?
As you might guess from the play’s title, a resemblance to William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair heroine, Becky Sharp, isn’t coincidental. Gionfriddo was reading Thackeray while writing this play. Her Becky is more insidious, more like an infestation of mold than a Molotov cocktail.
That said, the dark never smothers the light in this delightful comedy. The punchlines abound. Director Patricia McGregor has a crack sense of comedic timing, and her actors take advantage of every clever word. Keegan brilliantly captures the willful, conflicted Suzanna. Daugherty’s Andrew has a zany, eccentric physicality that is infectious. Gartshore plays against type—while we’re used to seeing him as the romantic, sweet-voiced hero, his Max is anything but sweet, and his vulnerabilities, when they appear, are all the more affecting for their reluctant admission.
Six has the greatest challenge as the chameleon Becky Shaw, and she manages to hit just the right notes with a wavery, little-girl voice and startled deer-in-the-headlights gaze. All the while, she rattles on and attaches herself the nearest man in sight
Veteran Brigid Cleary has a great time playing Suzanna’s mother, Susan, a grande dame who doffed her widow’s weeds in short order, took up with a young man of questionable character, and refuses to let a subject as tiresome as money spoil a good dinner. My only quibble with the production is with Cleary’s accent. This Virginia matron occasionally sounds like Dame Maggie Smith.
Production values at Round House are top notch. The revolving stage allows the action to move seamlessly from a New York hotel room to the newlyweds’ apartment to a hot dog counter. Each “scene” is grounded by the art on the walls. (I particularly loved the framed butterflies in Becky’s crowded studio apartment.) Each actor’s wardrobe is also singular—from Andrew’s shapeless beige sweater to Becky’s headband.
But what makes Becky Shaw so memorable is the work itself. This is a terrific play and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. Watching this brilliant comedy about heroes with feet of clay, anti-heroes with hearts of brass, dangerous damsels in distress, and a mixed-up young woman who gets caught in the middle, you’ll laugh out loud and then argue about the “good guys” all the way home.
Becky Shaw is at Round House Theatre through June 23. Tickets ($26 to $63) are available through Round House’s website.