Friday, January 9, 2009

Becky Shaw


By Gina Gionfriddo. Directed by Peter Dubois. At Second Stage. (CLOSED)

Critics responses are all over the map for Becky Shaw. Heavy hitters from the Times and TONY love it, while Bloomberg and Theatremania hate it. The play is everything from a dark, cynical comedy filled with vim and vigor that brilliantly fillets class and sexual relations to a meandering, meaningless mess. And someone really does need to just say this: The last line of John Simon's review of the show is inexcusable for all sorts of reasons, but most importantly that he uses the fact that a character in the play uses the derogatory term "mongoloid" as an excuse to use it himself (he says in a paraphrase of a line from the play that a mongoloid will cure cancer before Gionfriddo writes a good play). Not that we shouldn't expect anything less from a critic who has used both race and attractiveness to deride subjects of his reviews in the past, but still, come on. Bloomberg ostensibly has editors, and there's no way they would let bullshit like that fly on, say, their politics or Wall Street beats.

Time Out NY A
(Adam Feldman) As the testy, candidly nasty Max, the excellent Barnes—who suggests a gene splice of early Kevin Spacey and late Steve Martin—gets the bulk of Gionfriddo’s acid-tipped one-liners, and there are many of them. (This may be the funniest play of the season.) The perfectly cast Parisse is equally impressive as Becky, a wounded bird whose beak is unexpectedly sharp. Both actors originated their roles at the Humana Festival last year. At Second Stage, under Peter DuBois’s astute direction, the rest of the cast is new and strong.

(Boris Kachka) Every bit as clever as... August: Osage County... What keeps you engaged and continuously rethinking your allegiances are the characters, all hilariously flawed without becoming caricatures. In particular, David Wilson Barnes plays financial analyst Max with such near-hysterical energy—all awkward lunges and trembling knees—that you glimpse the panic beneath the soulless douchebag exterior.

Associated Press A
(Michael Kuchwara) Becky Shaw, which opened Thursday at off-Broadway's Second Stage, is a sharp social comedy of articulate anger laced with large helpings of angst and ambition. The perfect nourishment for theatergoers starved for a dramatic conflagration or two... Becky Shaw (the title comes from the play's most enigmatic character) deals with thirtysomethings trying to connect and having a hard time making the pieces fit. It was a critical and audience favorite last spring at Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays. You can see why.

Talkin' Broadway A-
(Matthew Murray) Economic problem drama, vibrant comic soap opera, or both? Who knows and who cares? For the majority of Becky Shaw, Gina Gionfriddo's deliciously unclassifiable new play at Second Stage, it hardly matters whether you're immersed in a hard-boiled domestic page-turner or an acid-toned satire of values and finances gone impossibly awry. All that's relevant is the insinuating energy of the title character, the helpless people in her orbit who are being wrenched apart by her gravitational pull, and the delirious plot twists and barbed-wire dialogue that unite them all in an addictive theatrical frenzy.... Gionfriddo's suave way of creating the quintet's walking-on-ice interactions with each other amid the flames of disaster is as impressive as it is engaging. Suzanna's fling with Max, Susan's debilitating multiple sclerosis, and the pervasive liberalism under which everyone (especially secret soul mates Andrew and Becky) operate all play central roles in showing us how our attitudes and actions create the world that supports or crushes us. Structurally, there's very little waste here.

The New York Times A-
(Charles Isherwood) The gloom shrouding the theater district lifted a little on Thursday night as a corker of a new play, Becky Shaw, popped open on 43rd Street at the Second Stage Theater. Gina Gionfriddo’s comedy of bad manners, a tangled tale of love, sex and ethics among a quartet of men and women in their 30s, is as engrossing as it is ferociously funny, like a big box of fireworks fizzing and crackling across the stage from its first moments to its last.

Variety A-
(Marilyn Stasio) Gina Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw is a blithely cynical and devastatingly funny play about ... well, it's hard to say what the point of it is, exactly. But scribe's witty observations on the emotional damage inflicted by neurotic people in the name of love is such a painful pleasure that probing for deeper meaning seems stuffy, as well as pointless. Besides, any charge of superficiality hardly counts as criticism, when character surfaces are so artfully defined by the savvy cast of Peter DuBois' slick production for Second Stage.

NYPress A-
(Leonard Jacobs) Scorching, satisfying... Becky Shaw may be a tapestry of clashing classes yet never feels didactic.

NYTheatre A-
(Maggie Cino) But in the end, this elusive missing quality only means that what could have been a transcendently brilliant production is merely extremely wonderful. The script, the actors, and the design gel beautifully and the script is as disturbing as it is funny. Gina Gionfriddo has sharp insight into some of the subtler greys of the human soul, and her skill exposes them for amusement and thrills, forcing us to confront the dark truth that no matter how hard any of us try or how much therapy we have, mixed motives and disappointment are simply a part of life.

Backstage B+
(David Sheward) It seems as though all the hot action in Becky Shaw takes place offstage. A daughter has a nasty confrontation with her mother's new lover in a hotel lobby. Newlyweds have their first serious fight. A Japanese businessman breaks down and confesses to being gay and having a longtime affair with his just-deceased male boss. But playwright Gina Gionfriddo manages to make the dissections and recriminations resulting from these unseen scenes fascinating. She is more interested in how people deal with the aftermath of dramatic confrontations. She also creates characters who are neither altruistically pure nor black-heartedly manipulative. They're a little bit of both. They occupy a gray zone, and that's where real people dwell.

CurtainUp B
(Simon Saltzman) A resounding success at this year’s Humana Festival of New American Plays, Becky Shaw is an amusing and craftily constructed comedy about ambition, the cost of being truthful, and the perils of a blind date. While the director Peter Dubois has kept just two of the original five actors, the current ensemble appears impeccably prepared for their roles. Yet what are we to make of a play in which there is not a single character for whom we can root or a contrived plot that is hardly worth a second thought? I’m not sure I know the answer. After two hours in the company of Gionfriddo’s five distinctively perverse and disingenuously dysfunctional characters, I was not sure what lesson I was to learn, what insight I might gain or what resolution I was to ponder. All that and I have to admit to having a good time, laughing a lot and when it was over still thinking about what I surely had missed.

The New Yorker B-
(Unsigned) Gionfriddo’s characters often come across as self-dramatizing, rather than as players in an artful dramatic scheme. But the play succeeds in blurring the audience’s allegiances: which of these neurotic souls, it cunningly asks, is capable of real empathy?

AM New York B-
(Matt Windman) It takes a while to see where exactly playwright Gina Gionfriddo is going in her slow-paced, verbose, yet intriguing black comedy Becky Shaw, which just opened at Off-Broadway’s Second Stage after a successful run at Kentucky’s Humana Festival.... Unfortunately, it’s not until the very end of the play that it actually makes sense thanks to some twists and turns in the plot. Until then, it feels too meandering and stale. Peter DuBois’ production has little physical staging and consists entirely of long, extended conversations... Luckily, at least one stinging one-liner is fired at the audience per minute.

Daily News B-
(Joe Dziemianowicz) A social study of haves and have-nots and the blurry line between the two, Becky Shaw is quite entertaining, at times emitting the sounds and rhythms of a sitcom. Characters don't so much speak to each other as exchange zingers and stingers, volleying the jabs back and forth like badminton birdies. Fun for a while, but it gets exhausting.

Financial Times C
(Brendan Lemon) I didn’t believe for more than a minute here and there that the five characters, or the actors playing them, were inhabiting anything approaching real life... Directed by Peter DuBois, the production is notable chiefly for Gionfriddo’s professional ear for dialogue and for the performance of David Wilson Barnes as Max. Barnes has an impressive suffer-no-fools abrasiveness. If there’s ever a movie version, the inevitable casting would be Kevin Spacey.

Show Show-Down C-
(Wendy Caster) Somehow the much ado doesn’t add up to anything—other than whining and squabbling—until Parisse appears as the female half of an ill-advised blind date. She’s one of those performers who seem to bring their own spotlight with them, and her every word and movement as the surprising (inconsistent?) Becky fascinate and intrigue. However, even she cannot make Becky Shaw really work

The Record C-
(Robert Feldberg) Thackeray's Becky was an energetic and irrepressible, if amoral, seeker of money and status, while Gionfriddo's Becky is an opaque, pathetically needy soul who tries to rise in the world by playing the victim card. The other characters in the modern-day comedy of manners, which opened Thursday night at the Second Stage Theatre, are just about as limited, if more clearly defined. The glib, intermittently amusing play presents two types of people: the strong, who lack feelings, and the emotionally aware, who lack strength... Lots of things happen in "Becky Shaw." Most of them, though, happen off stage, and what we see, under the direction of Peter DuBois, frequently has a static feeling... despite moments of wit and insight, it seems a rather pat and limited piece of theater.

New York Observer C-
(John Helipern) I feel sorry...that I don’t care for the new social comedy Becky Shaw as much as my enthusiastic colleagues. Gina Gionfriddo is one smart writer, and I would sooner join in the acclaim for a fresh voice than not. But I found myself agreeing with the muted half of the audience at the Second Stage Theatre who weren’t convulsed with laughter at the playwright’s worldly cynicism about love and marriage and, among much else, blind dates and white lies. (The other half of the audience, let it be said, had a whale of a time).

The Village Voice C-
(Michael Feingold) Partly, Gionfriddo's story loses focus because her characters don't convince; you're always asking yourself why or whether they would even bother making some of the excessive efforts they go through. (Max is so relentlessly hostile that it's hard to believe anyone would go to the trouble of fixing him up with a blind date.) And—as in far too many recent plays—the world outside the characters' largely cushioned lives never seems fully imagined. Instead, it's evoked in the kind of buzzword-laden comedy that owes its lineage to the sitcom. Gionfriddo's narrative thrust is aimed at people interested in human beings; her verbal displays often seem aimed toward those more interested in hipster yuks. You can't write, any more than you can walk, in two directions at once.

Theatermania D
(David Finkle) Becky Shaw -- now at Second Stage after a critically acclaimed run at last year's Humana Festival -- is as bogus as a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi scheme, and made none the better by Peter DuBois' often poor direction and some surprisingly bad performances.

Bloomberg News D
(John Simon) The plot of Gina Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw is inconsequential and the characters are mundane, but the talk is a blue streak verging on purple. Presented by New York’s Second Stage, it is a comedy that subsists on its sweaty dialogue alone. As so often is the case nowadays, the author has dreamed up a rather recherche basic situation and built a house of cards upon it. If we don’t stir up too much wind with shaking our heads, the fallible edifice precariously holds.

TONY A 13; NYM A 13; AP A 13; TB A- 12; NYT A- 12; NYTimes A- 12;NYPress A-12; Variety A- 12; BS B+ 11; CU B 10; AMNY B- 9; NY b- 9; DN B- 9; FT C 7; NJ C- 6; SSD C- 6; NYO C-6; VV C- 6; TM D 4; BN D 4. TOTAL = 186/20=9.3=B-

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Becky Shaw was one of the worst plays I ever witnessed. The author, like many modern day so-called writers lives in the unnatural world of writers where people talk to each other with a total lack of civility, a total lack of empathy. I saw this play at the Wilma theater in Philadelphia where a goodly number of the audience laughed everytime one of the characters shouted the "F" word and the author loves that word, so much so that it became the most memorable thing one recalled about her play; in fact I haven't heard that word and its multitudinous variants so much in so short a period of time since I was in the Army in Korea fifty years ago. She, the author, also uses all the current buzz words and situations that tittilate ignorant audiences including "mongoloid", "pedophile", and out of place references to "big dick", and the ever popular insertion of a gay affair, this time the recently dead father and husband of two of the characters. At the question and answer period I seemed to be the only dissenting voice about the play and when I asked the author "Who do you know who talks like the characters in your play?" she confidently and blithely answered..."I talk that way" (!!!!!!!!!!!!!)