Theater Review: “Becky Shaw” at Round House Theatre

Gina Gionfriddo’s 2009 Pulitzer finalist gets a funny, adept staging at Round House.
Rex Daugherty, Will Gartshore, Michelle Six, and Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan in Round House Theatre’s production of Becky Shaw. Photograph by Danisha Crosby.
Rex Daugherty, Will Gartshore, Michelle Six, and Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan in Round House Theatre’s production of Becky Shaw. Photograph by Danisha Crosby.

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.

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