Becky Shaw is a play that understands the art of observation. The point isn't some theme or character or plot... it's about a generation. Our generation... eek. And Gina Gionfriddo gets it.
She has obviously observed the annoyance, the selfishness, the confidence, the lack of confidence, and the idea of tricking ourselves into knowing what we want... all resulting from a coddled generation raised on msnbc and post-Freudian textbooks. Yet because it was observed instead of felt it absolutely worked as entertainment. This play was hilarious.
Bubbles and I saw Becky Shaw together tonight on Broadway. We talked furiously between curtains about this very idea of a generation and what defines it. 'We're back to the sixties! noted Bubbles in exasperation, 'You kids are the talk, talk, talk of the sixties!' Her generation, mind you, was 'full of grunters. We didn't talk about anything.'
This generation... (what are we again? Millennials?) knows how to analyze and pick and prod until the point of exhaustion. We have been raised to believe that if there is a problem, you talk about it. You figure it out. And talk they did.
That said, it should be noted that in no way is Gionfriddo trying to capture an entire generation the way that Rent did for the 90s or Grease for the 50s. Shaw is more of a shapshot or a focus group. She took extremes and set them in a room and they in turn set the room on fire. And that's what makes it interesting... there's nothing epic about it.
The title character enters at the end of the first act as an unsure, delicate, needy (yet gorgeous) blind date. She is set against a cast of strong personalities who have zero tolerance for weakness and very little boundaries in terms of opinion. She took hit after hit from her date, Max, who she of course ultimately fell in love with despite his blaring disinterest and obvious mistreatment. It was so funny. She is the embodiment of tragedy and hopefulness... a combination that will always prove detrimental.
Susannah, the lead female, represents a false sense of identity so evident in a generation weened on 'favorites' and 'selective tagging.' It's like she decided one day that she wanted to be a certain person and married the first man who fit the mold. She tries desperately, every day, to fit that mold as well. She wants to like mountains and flannel and good deeds... but its only effort, not sincerity.
Max often refers to her husband as a alternative music junkie, yet we know from the opening scene that Susannah prefers rock music by the ocean. She is a judger, not a listener. Because of her complexity and harshness, Susannah is much less funny than Becky. Yet her counterpart, Max, keeps her likable by prodding her bad side.
The play continues in Shakespearean entanglement with language to match. Becky twists Max's words as if guided by Puck himself while Susan (Susannah's mother played by Kelly Bishop... aka... EMILY GILMORE!!!) bounces one liners in deadpan declaration a la Titania on her throne of thorns and certainty.
The second act gains momentum from Becky's naivete and we suddenly realize why this play is called Becky Shaw and not Susannah... for Becky, like Puck, messed with everyone's lives without permission. Yet, unlike Puck, Becky is oblivious to her irreversible ripples.
Max's character proved the most complex, stemming from a stubborn rejection of psychology and almost existential view on human limitation. He crushes ideologies and false truths in favor of realism. He is the typical jack-ass who kicks girls out of bed before morning then insists on paying for the cab.
He is the serial dater, the pompous financial guy, and the misogynistic alpha male all rolled into one delicious wool coat. Again, this is comedy and its hilarious. He kills us with his sarcasm and brutal honesty, always at the expense of the fool on the other end of the bargaining table. We of course get to see him break, but as they say... too little too late.
in addition to his character, Max actually drove me a little insane in his pitch... he started high and had a difficult time coming down. Granted, his lines were all based in sarcasm and argument but I would have liked to see a variation in his deliverance. The same goes for Susannah. I kept wishing she would belly her breath (think Kate Winselt) instead of talking directly from her head. It turned nasal and too high for the amount of angry dialogue thrown about. They were clearly written to be abrasive, but if you ask me, they could have toned it down.
Bubbles and I had a marvelous time. There is nothing like good live theater to lift your spirits and energize your soul, we agreed. Especially on a Wednesday in the dead of winter during a recession. The Times review agreed. Speaking of this damn recession, tickets to this show are $35 if you're under 30.... a STEAL. Becky Shaw is fresh, young, bold, theater and deserves to be seen.