The Unveiling Of Becky Shaw
In the sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic play, the story challenges the audience to make a decision
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IF one of the main characters in a major theater production says, “Sometimes lying is the most compassionate thing you can do,” then you know you can expect the unexpected. That’s the beauty of Becky Shaw, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated, Gina Gionfriddo-written play that continues through November 12 at Windy City Playhouse.
It’s a 90-minute-plus experience, characterized by twists and turns in a what’s-next kind of story that showcases an entertaining mix of compelling drama and dark comedy. Playwright Gionfriddo set out to create a play that would captivate the audience, and this one does it.
Becky Shaw actually is a tale of two stories, beginning with the relationship between Suzanna (Amy Rubenstein), a severely depressed 35-year old who’s seeking a Ph.D. in psychology, and Max (Michael Doonan), a by-the books financial expert who was “adopted” at 10 by Suzanna’s parents. After Suzanna’s father dies, the two set up a meeting with Suzanna’s mother (Suzanne Petri) to discuss Suzanna’s father’s estate, but her outspoken, do-as-I-please mother brings her 31-year-old, squandering boy-toy with her, which creates some unexpected and uncomfortable problems.
At the same time, to complicate matters––and muddy the waters even more––Max has more than sisterly feelings for Suzanna and the two have a brief fling before she marries aspiring writer Andrew (Michael Aaron Pogue), a softhearted man she met on a ski trip and one who Max despises for several reasons, including the fact that Andrew inexplicably cries if he’s exposed to pornography.
At first, it appears that the story is really about Suzanna and Max and their relationship until Andrew comes up with the idea to set up Max on a blind date with his friendly, somewhat enigmatic co-worker, Becky Shaw (Carley Cornelius). An odd decision since Becky and Max have nothing really in common. Becky, who’s in a transitional space in her life, has no friends, no family (“I don’t even speak to them.”) and no relationships. She’s needy, has low self-esteem and admits she “took some wrong turns” in her search for love. Even so, Becky knows what she wants, but the way she goes about getting it is what rubs some people the wrong way.
Max quickly recognizes the flaws in the 35-year-old during their initial meeting but––hoping to appease both Andrew and Suzanna––decides to go on the date anyway. Unfortunately, the set up goes badly with both of them experiencing a violent event that’s traumatic for Becky––but less so for Max. It’s the aftermath that further reveals a clingy, emotionally unstable Becky, her view of reality and what she will do for love.
In this production, Rubenstein, founder and artistic director of Windy City Playhouse, decided to come from behind the scenes and return to the stage to again showcase her skills as an actress. “Becky Shaw is exactly the type of play that I wanted to produce when I founded Windy City Playhouse,” Rubenstein says. “It is thought-provoking, insightful and outrageously funny. I also think that our space––utilized in a new configuration that literally positions the audience just inches away from the actors––will make viewers feel as though they are a ‘fly on the wall’ during the performance.”
Becky Shaw, directed by Scott Weinstein and scenically designed by Jeffrey D. Kmiec, is one of those shows with content that’s left to individual interpretation. Plus, the cast is one that is equally layered, with no one clearly standing out as either protagonist or antagonist. That was Gionfriddo’s intention, allowing the audience to side with either character based on each audience member’s own personal experiences or codes of morality. Since the show premiered at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in 2008, thousands of theatergoers have been split on who they think is the bad guy in the play. And, projecting their own history on the story, the Windy City Playhouse audiences have been no different. Everybody, it seems, walks away with widely varying points of view on the mercurial Becky Shaw and what the future holds for her.
Michael Aaron Pogue (left to right), Amy Rubenstein, Carley Cornelius and Michael Doonan in Gina Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw at Windy City Playhouse.
The blind date unravels quickly for Becky and Michael, and (below) Becky recounts the traumatic evening for her co-worker and friend, Andrew.
Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow
The performance schedule for Becky Shaw is as follows: Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. For a detailed performance schedule, visit WindyCityPlayhouse.com/Becky-Shaw. Tickets for Becky Shaw range from $15-$55—with discounts available for seniors and students—and can be purchased by calling 773-891-8985 or visiting WindyCityPlayhouse.com.