I have a granddaughter whose name is Rebecca Shaw! This may have made watching the current offering of Windy City Playhouse, “Becky Shaw” written by Gina Gionfriddo more intriguing. This play deals with classes and people with deep secrets, although the title person is not, in fact, the central character. I saw this as a flaw in the story and the connection between the characters. In fact, the characters and the relationships between them get a bit confusing, despite the clever direction by the very talented Scott Weinstein.
For those of you not familiar with this very intimate “black-box-storefront”, each play has a new configuration and staging area. In “Becky Shaw” there are two distinct stages, opposite of each other and in the center of the venue, a bare section of floor where other scenes can be played. The chairs in the theater are round, swivel chairs allowing the audience to easily see all three areas of action, with Weinstein moving the action from scene to scene with ease. I think some of the costume changes were made while the actors were fleeting from north to south, but they made it with no hesitations. The set-up for this production allows for a total of 72 seats, and there are no bad seats, floor or one tier up!
As I said earlier, the story is flawed as to the characters and what “Becky” means to each. When the story opens we are in a hotel room in New York. Suzanna Slater (Amy Rubenstein, who is Artistic Director of Windy City) is in the room when Max Garrett ( deftly handled by Michael Doonan) comes in to begin discussions about her recently deceased father’s estate. Her mother, Susan (a strong performance by Suzanne Petri) is also in the hotel with her new boyfriend. They are there to all look into the finances of the estate. Max, who it turns out was taken in as a child by this family and raised to succeed, is a financial planner, who has had great success, but as we learn, there is a great deal more to the story. By the way, the first scene ends sort of shockingly!
In the second scene, we are now in Providence ,Rhode island, in Suzanna’s new apartment with her new husband, Andrew ( Michael Pogue, as the only character who seems real and reasonable). Max is expanding his firm to Boston, so since he is near, they have invited him to be fixed-up with one of Andrew’s co-workers, Ms Becky Shaw ( played to perfection by Carley Cornelius), a sort of “loser” type who is far lower on the class structure than any of the other characters in this story. Andrew and Suzanna end up staying at home allowing Max and Becky to go out on their own.
I do not want to give you any details at this point, as it would ruin your watching it unfold, but I will tell you that this particular “blind-date” goes awry. The events of the evening are powerful stuff that can have a deep effect on all parties concerned, and they do. Not just on Max and Becky, but also on Andrew and Suzanna and their relationship. In the scenes that follow, between Max and Becky and Max and Suzanna, and Andrew and Becky and Max and Suzanna, and Susan and Suzanna and everyone, there will be confusion, but, here is my dilemma. When it appeared that all would be ended so that everyone is comfortable with the situation they are left in, Gionfriddo throws in a “monkey wrench”. Some will like it- others be even more confused.
My star system is based on enjoyment factors and entertainment factors, not if I liked it as a total play. If I think my readers will be entertained, it gets higher rating. I also like to see thought-provoking drama/comedy plays that allow us to think and open up avenues for discussion. “Becky Shaw” certainly does that! The intimacy of the theater allows us to be that proverbial “fly on the wall” we always hear about, as well as look into the eyes of the actors as they bring their characters to life.
Jeffre D. Kmiec (set design) has truly outdone himself on this one! There are sets pieces coming out of the walls and light fixtures from the high ceilings and an amazing number of props (Jamie Karas). The original music, adding great flavor to the piece ( Eric Backus) and the sound made everything clear and Brandon Wardell’s lighting works as do the costumes by Rachel M. Sypniewski. The tech aspects of every production in this venue have always been first-class, as have the actors. It is often the plays selected that can be problematic. This one has merit, albeit , not as powerful as one would hope for due to the confusion, but one that does tell a story of people and the little lies that they hold within, and the effects these can cause in their lives. Each character in this play has a problem, and a secret (or more) and each one is afraid to face their situation straight on. Well, maybe, the one who has the most to be afraid of, Becky herself, is the only truly honest one in the play!
“Becky Shaw” will continue at The Windy City Playhouse, located at 3014 West Irving Park Rd, through November 12th with performances as follows:
Wednesdays 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Running time is two hours with a 15 minute intermission
Tickets range from $15- $55 and can be purchased by calling 773-891-8985 or online atwww.WindyCityPlayhouse.com
Street parking is plentiful, some metered, some not. This is the stretch of Irving Park that leads to the parking for The Cubs, so during the next two weeks of play-offs (on a POSITIVE note) give yourself ample time.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Becky Shaw”.