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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

 

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