Jan 12, 2009

"Shaw" Thing

I don't have a lot of time at the moment for a lengthy or considered post on Gina Gionfriddo's excellent new play Becky Shaw except to say that, well, I think it's excellent, one of the best I've seen in a good while.

It's firmly in the American theatrical mainstream of what might be called contemporary relationship plays, a genre in which Second Stage specializes, with an inevitably spotty batting average. There's a danger of overpraising here, but Becky Shaw feels like a home run.

Its plotting and psychology have some odd lacunae, the kind that have you thinking out loud to your theatergoing companion afterwards, "Did you buy that scene/that turn/that moment?" But what I found smart about the writing is that the play's weird gaps and mysteries don't seem random or literary at all but actually spur reflection on the characters' behavior in closer-to-home moral sense, not just in terms of plausibility. The post-show questioning, in other words, ranged freely along the continuum between "Would someone do that?" at one end, the kind of thing one argues about after a horror movie or a thriller, and "What would make someone, even me, do that?" That's a rich place for a play to burrow in. It doesn't hurt that Gionfriddo's play, under Peter DuBois' direction, is also entertaining as hell.

While the widely diverging reviews have made a lot of the Thackeray connection, last night I happened to rewatch a film that resonates quite satisfyingly with Becky Shaw's themes of class skirmishes, role playing, and marital fragility: All About Eve.

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