RMG client GINA GIONFRIDDO’s rich comedy “Becky Shaw” is garnering spectacular reviews in it’s London run. Please check out this particular column from Michael Billington of The Guardian.
The Guardian, Friday 21 January 2011
The Almeida has a strong track-record in producing American plays. And it was of one of its favoured sons, Neil LaBute, that I was reminded watching this astute, acerbic and richly funny comedy by Gina Gionfriddo. Like LaBute, Gionfriddo deals with power and manipulation. But what she brings to a familiar dramatic theme is a surprising moral ambiguity.
The action, much of it set round Rhode Island, hinges on an ill-starred blind date initiated by the newlywed Andrew and Suzanna. He has taken pity on the luckless 35-year-old Becky who works as a temp in his office: she feels a similar concern for the partner-free Max, a financial whiz-kid reared by her own family. But matchmakers, as we know, often get their fingers burned and the dinner date between Becky and Max has disastrous repercussions for all concerned. It drives a wedge between the well-intentioned Andrew and his young wife and leads to recriminations between the over-intense Becky and the emotionally detached Max.
In the course of the play Jane Austen is invoked; and, although Gionfriddo works within a small compass, she has clearly studied the great novelist’s ability to shift the moral perspective. At first, we take Becky at her own evaluation as one of life’s walking wounded; but, as the action progresses, we begin to see that she exercises the tyranny of the weak. And almost the reverse process happens with Max. Initially, we mark him down as a heartless smart-ass: learning, for instance, that his prospective date is lost because she has no mobile phone, he inquires “Is she Amish?” But, under Max’s brutally wisecracking exterior, lurks a damaged soul. Ultimately, the question of who is manipulating whom remains tantalisingly unresolved.
While the writing is densely textured, much of the pleasure lies in the expert timing of the production by Peter DuBois. David Wilson Barnes, who played Max both in Louisville and Off-Broadway, brings to it something of the deadpan wit and dry insouciance we associate with Kevin Spacey; yet he also hints at the loneliness of a man terrified of emotional intimacy. Daisy Haggard also blissfully embodies the neurotic neediness of the eponymous heroine: nothing in the evening is better than the look of shy triumph that steals over her features when she says something that elicits universal approbation. And, in a play in which everyone is psychologically flawed, Anna Madeley beautifully hints at Suzanna’s quiet desperation while Vincent Montuel shows that her husband’s seeming goodness conceals a certain sappiness. But this is part of the charm of a play that explores, with cultivated panache, the fact that virtue and vice are, in the end, strictly relative values.
- guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011