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Friday, 29 September 2017 12:16

Review: Becky Shaw at Windy City Playhouse

“Sometimes lying is the most humane thing you can do,” declares Gina Gionfriddo’s character Suzanna Slater in her play ‘Becky Shaw.’ Gionfriddo’s script was shortlisted for the 2009 Pulitzer and enjoyed a successful Off-Broadway run in 2008. ‘Becky Shaw’ makes its Chicago premiere at Windy City Playhouse in Irving Park.

Scott Weinstein directs this sleek production at the even sleeker Windy City Playhouse space. With only 25 seats, the performance space asks its audience to swivel in remarkably comfortable club chairs between scenes as there are three stages in the theater. Something about the orientation of the theater makes this telling more active than a typical play. A really unique experience that may be as memorable as the play itself.

‘Becky Shaw’ is a story about two non-biological siblings Suzanna (Amy Rubenstein) and Max (Michael Doonan) caught in a ‘Cruel Intentions’ style love affair until Suzanna marries someone else. They come from a splintery family and are brutal with one another, but not brutally honest. When Suzanna and her husband attempt to set up cold and cruel Max with delicate Becky Shaw, the play takes a dark direction.

This play is nothing if not well acted. The titular role, drawn as an allusion to the Victorian novel ‘Vanity Fair’ by Thackery, is played by Carley Cornelius. Her version of a clever woman trying to claw her way out of circumstances is haunting and weird. At no point do you ever feel that you’ve got her figured out. At times she’s vulnerable and soft but then turns deliberate and forceful. Cornelius brings a very relatable quality to this mysterious character. Gionfriddo has created such a fascinating character in Becky Shaw, that it’s almost disappointing that there’s not more of her here.

Gionfriddo’s play is funny and provocative. There are quote-worthy snippets of dialogue that, offer glimmers into the playwright’s opinions. She seems very concerned with equality of sexes. Several times the script calls a relationship a meeting of equals. Some may remember Gionfriddo’s play ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ which premiered at the Goodman in 2015. While nowhere near as good, ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ continued the playwright’s probe into the complexities of long term romantic love between men and women.

The scene jumping quality of the script lends itself well to the multi-staged set-up of Windy City Playhouse. It helps establish the passage of time between scenes and gets you close enough to the actors to feel directly involved. The female ensemble is works really well together in this production. Chicago stage veteran Suzanne Petri gives a standout performance as the mother of Max and Suzanna, and walks away with some of the most insightful lines of the evening. ‘Becky Shaw’ is a play about what happens when you bring a new person into your life, whether you want it or not. (John Accrocco)

Through November 12 at Windy City Playhouse 3014 W Irving Park. 773-891-8985

 

Published in Theatre in Review

I thoroughly enjoy the Windy City Playhouse and it appears they did a renovation since I was there last. The seats are comfortable and a full bar is a fantastic feature to any theater, if you ask me. In addition, the staff are incredibly friendly and very caring. I will definitely try another play here but I have to say, This, left little to be desired. 

 

This explores the ups and downs of life from a group of five friends in their upper thirties. The set opens up in Tom (Steve O'Connell) and Marrell's (Tania Richard) New York apartment. They are hosting friends Jane (Amy Rubenstein) and Alan (Joe Zarrow). It is quickly discovered that Jane is a widow and Marrell is looking to set her up with her French friend, Jean Pierre, who is played by Brian Gray. As this group of friends reminisce about the college days they had spent together we gradually care less and less about them as there is nothing about them that is really likable or pulls us in. Over magnifying the problems and "tough" life decisions of this privileged and highly educated collection of characters (yawn), playwright Melissa James Gibson falls short in creating individuals we want to identify with. This tends to drag and never really comes around, refusing to engage its audience.      

 

I found the plot to be a bit predictable; maybe because it has been done before. I had a hard time connecting to this group of self-centered characters and found many of them to be a bit over the top. However, the best part of this play is Joe Zarrow. He played his witty character, Alan, perfectly and added just the right amount of comical relief when necessary. The only other plus besides Zarrow's performance, was in Katie-Bell Kenney's well-crafted set design to which we find ourselves peering into a believable apartment complex.   

 

Even though I didn't enjoy the play as much as other treasures at Windy City Playhouse, I'd still recommend taking the time to see it for yourself, if for any reason to support this wonderful theatre that has a great track record of hitting its mark. This is being performed at Windy City Playhouse (3014 W Irving Park Rd) through August 28th. Tickets range from $25-$45.

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