Pictured: Michael Aaron Pogue, Amy Rubenstein, Carly Cornelius and Michael Doonan. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
By Elizabeth Ellis
Even in the best of circumstances, dating can present a shifting minefield of opportunity. The guy from the coffee house seems smart and kind, then you discover he has a room dedicated to his antique baby doll collection. The woman your friend said was a “10” makes you laugh within 10 seconds, then before the end of your first date she asks for her own set of keys to your apartment. This kind of uncertainty can make even the most hopeful and optimistic sort wonder if the entire world is populated with crazy, and morph into cynicism. Such is the place where we find the world of BECKY SHAW, given a strong and acerbically funny interpretation at Windy City Playhouse. BECKY SHAW shows that love can be tough, but the deliberate avoidance of it can be tougher.
Much of the play takes place in Providence where Suzanna and her sort-of adoptive brother, Max, were raised. Though raised as siblings, Suzanna and Max have an intense and contentious, but strangely close relationship. After the death of her father a few months ago, Suzanna is still grieving his loss, much to Max’s dismay and frustration (Max, who works in finance, has no time for worthless investments like grief). Later, on a ski trip, Suzanna meets Andrew, a gentle and nurturing soul, and they marry after a brief courtship. Andrew thinks it’s a good idea to set up Max on a blind date with his friend, the lost and struggling Becky, even though Becky is all fragility and emotional flailing. Their date turns out to be the definitive epic fail, though Becky staunchly refuses to believe that she and Max have run their course. Her stalker-like behavior understandably sets Max off, but you also wonder if her dogged insistence is what is necessary to get through to this particularly emotionally stunted character.
Max, played with aggressive impatience by the excellent Michael Doonan, is a puzzle of a character. He’s an abrasive and annoying jerk, and his circuitboard obviously didn’t come loaded with the humanity, empathy and compassion chips, but due in great part to Doonan’s considerable talent, he is magnetic every time he’s onstage. Amy Rubenstein’s flinty and neurotic Suzanna aches for closeness and intimacy but engages in come here/go away behavior, so while we hope for her to find true contentment, it eludes her at every opportunity. Suzanne Petri’s wonderful comic timing enhances her patrician yet lusty Susan. Michael Aaron Pogue brings a quiet strength and intensity to Andrew, such a sensitive soul that pornography makes him cry. Carley Cornelius as the titular character shows great dimension to what could easily be a caricature: her Becky, though living on the edge of normalcy, visibly transforms after her introduction to Max and her fluttering bird on the surface belies a determination and fortitude that makes Cornelius a wonder to watch.
Director Scott Weinstein doesn’t hold back from the uncomfortable questions and situations found in Gina Gionfriddo’s caustically funny script, and generously lets his actors revel in the emotional dysfunction their characters create and foster. Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s sparse and modern sets, with the audience placed in the gulf between the two ends of the space, give a more intimate connection to the characters than in a traditional stage arrangement.
It takes an excellent writer to create challenging characters and problematic circumstances that you can’t help but watch, and Gionfriddo has succeeded in this admirably. As the events in BECKY SHAW unfold — accusations of infidelity, a potentially scamming lover, a date that involves a mugger and a visit to the police station, love acknowledged but not pursued — you begin to see that while the characters’ deepest desire is to connect, Their own conflictedness keeps them from fulfilling those connections. This paradox, along with Doonan’s stellar performance, makes BECKY SHAW a must-see.
BECKY SHAW runs through November 19th. For more information visit windycityplayhouse.com.