Boulevard’s Becky Shaw, a sweet romantic comedy — NOT!
Playwright Gina Gionfriddo concocts high soap and plays it as vicious comedy in Becky Shaw, running through March 20 at the Boulevard Theatre.
Daddy’s death — along with the revelation that Daddy might have been secretly gay and that he has left the family in financial straits — has traumatized daughter Suzanna. She leans on not-quite-brotherly Max, whom her parents raised since childhood. As adults, they are attracted to one another and… well, see the play and find out. Still, Suzanna marries sensitive, good-hearted Andrew, who introduces the apparently fragile Becky Shaw to Max. Meanwhile, Suzanna’s mother has run off with a gold-digging younger man.
Sudsy enough for you? Fine, but this show is anything but squeaky clean. These high-strung characters drop f-bombs on one another with the zeal of the Luftwaffe over London. Everyone jabbers endlessly about their feelings — except Max, who doubts that feelings even exist. The play is very funny, largely because Gionfriddo blessed Max, and through him actor Joe Fransee, with a rapier wit that he thrusts with great precision into the extravagantly bleeding hearts of those around him.
When Max hears that Becky has “attempted suicide” by cutting her arm: “That’s teenage horseshit. Cutting yourself over the age of 18 is just embarrassing. The people in the ER should laugh at you.” And upon hearing that Andrew has run to Becky’s side: “He hears ‘I want to hurt myself’ as a fucking mating call.'” (I told you that R-rated vocabulary abounds in this show.)
The characters are types, hybrids of people we know from prime-time soaps and romantic comedy, but with (mostly) nasty twists. In a conventional romantic comedy, the hard-driving, cynical Max would eventually fall for the messy, needy Becky (Rachel Lewandowski). Forget that. He shreds her with his wit, until she shows a dangerous side that shocks both Max and us. That awwww moment that romantic comedies have taught us to expect never comes. Suzanna (Anne Miller) turns on Andrew (Nigel Wade) about 20 minutes after he sees her through her trauma and marries her. Andrew plays the sucker for Becky. Suzanna’s mother (Christine Lathrop Horgan) makes foolish choices, but she is no fool. She sees her own flaws and absurdities as keenly as she observes the flaws and absurdities of the others.
Director David Flores and his actors pace the show well. They bring out its rhythm, establish momentum, and articulate its torrents of words with clarity and grace. When I saw the show, on the snowy Sunday afternoon, the cast was intermittently uneven only in the scale of the acting, especially early in the piece. Such an intimate story in such an intimate theater calls for acting no larger than real life. Sometimes, Fransee and Miller, especially, got bigger than that and felt actorly and false. But mostly they weren’t that way, and as the show went on everyone fell into the same scale and held it, like a slightly shaky choir settling on a pitch. Wade was the most consistent and subtle actor in this regard, with fine gradations within the narrow confines of his character and the setting.
Tickets are $20 and $22, depending on performance date. Call the Boulevard Theatre, 414 744-5757.