Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Becky Shaw" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

"F**k you, Mom!" she screams into the phone, then begs: "Call me!" Liz Sklar is the tormented thirty-something Suzanna Slater (seen on left, above) who is trying to deal with her difficult mom, also named Suzanna (Lorrie Holt) and her adopted brother Max (Brian Robert Burns), for whom she has developed, to say the least, conflicted emotions.

It's all complicated, but comprehensible, until the moment Becky Shaw walks in the door. Played brilliantly by Lauren English, Becky is the yin to everyone else's yang. She is working class, they are intellectuals. She is working hard to please, they are interested only in themselves. Most of all, Becky's world is basically invisible to these upwardly-mobile young professionals.

This seems to be at least part of playwright Gina Gionfriddo's premise -- the half-hidden American class struggle. But as Act One ends, we realize that simple-girl Becky is not quite so simple. She knows something the rest of these people do not.

Act Two is that rarity in modern theater: the superior Act Two that follows a wonderful Act One. Now we get to see Becky in full force, as she begins to chase her ultimate goal: Max. The beauty of Gina Gionfriddo's writing is when we get to the end, everything finally makes perfect sense.

We can quibble about Amy Glazer's direction and Ewa Muszynska's set -- but it may be that they have no choice, given a relatively small stage. There is a lot of scene changing where the action slows to a halt as they refit the stage behind an actor who is in freeze mode. We don't know how you speed that up -- but in the meantime, Steve Schoenbeck's sound design helps guide us through the pauses.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Becky Shaw" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. Acting and production are excellent but the best part is Gionfriddo's writing. You are carried along by the action without realizing where you're going. It is not a short play, but feels like it.

The BANGLE is for Lauren English. Without her this is another rather precious thirty-something psychodrama. But with her we have to reorder our priorities -- who exactly are we rooting for here? The answer is we are rooting for ourselves -- that our best parts might have a chance against our demons.

"Becky Shaw"
San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through March 10, 2012

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