Sunday, 31 October 2010

Becky Shaw ***1/2

Becky Shaw 
By Gina Gionfriddo, Echelon Productions,
Lawler Studio, MTC, until November 14, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars:*** 1/2

Gina Gionfriddo’s darkly comical play may be called Becky Shaw, but the character we see most of is Suzanna (Suzie) Slater (Amanda Levy), a neurotic woman in her 30s who is completing a PhD in Psychology when she should be analysing her own muddy, inner world. Suzanna’s life is “epic Faulknerian chaos”, which means everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Gionfriddo’s play deals with Suzanna’s fraught relationships with her family and their emotional and ethical dilemmas. Suzanna’s formerly wealthy father dies before the play begins, leaving a financial and emotional mess for his wife, Susan (Judith Roberts) who suffers with Multiple Sclerosis, his daughter, Suzanna, and his adopted son, Max Garrett (Daniel Frederiksen), a high-flying money manager.

Suzanna and Max squabble then consummate a sexual attraction stemming from their childhood. Mum has a young lover-minder who is a conman. Then Suzanna marries sensitive Andrew (Alex Papps) who has a history of rescuing needy women then abandoning them.

That all seems complicated enough but things get worse when Becky Shaw, the next damsel in distress, appears. Kate Atkinson is always unbeatably charming, but as the outwardly “delicate” and needy, but inwardly manipulative, obsessive and dangerous Becky, we want to slap her and scream, “Leave them alone”. But she gets her claws well into this family.

Levy is maddeningly accurate as the neurotic, little, rich American princess, playing Suzanna with a brittle, feistiness and obnoxious irrationality. Frederiksen is delicious as the brusque, unsentimental Max, giving this tough-boy-made-good a charm and sexual energy that is both attractive and dangerous. He looks after the people close to him but dismisses losers such as Becky – at his own peril. Papps plays the unbearably feminist Andrew with relish.

Although the script wanders a little, there is some fine dialogue, smart social observation and several compelling characters. It is funny and disturbing like Yasmina Reza’s play, God of Carnage, although less savage and visceral. Contemporary America is lampooned mercilessly for its mad political correctness and its greed and acquisitiveness that run on parallel tracks. Indira Carmichael’s direction of story and characters is slick but her scene changes and repeated moving of furniture interrupt the flow.

 Becky Shaw is good entertainment with plenty of recognisable personal and social dilemmas and without too much mental challenge.

By Kate Herbert

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