The "Greek god rule," according to Suzanna Slater in Gina Gionfriddo's new play "Becky Shaw," was one of the ways the gods evaluated mortals. The judgment was based on how people handled strangers they encountered or who appeared on their doorstep. The idea being that one's relationship with strangers, reveals much about their character.
Gionfriddo explores that idea in great depth in "Becky Shaw," currently having its regional premiere under the direction of Tina Parker at Kitchen Dog Theater.
The play tells the story of Max Garrett and Suzanna Slater, played here by Max Hartman and Leah Spillman, a pair with a rather unusual semi-sibling relationship and a healthy dose of sexual tension. As the play opens, the two are dealing with the death of Suzanna's father (who for all intents and purposes raised Max), her mother's unusual coping mechanisms and a young stranger named Becky Shaw.
After Suzanna and her sensitive, writer husband Andrew (Mike Federico) make an ill-fated attempt at match-making between the cold and un-empathetic Max and Andrew's young co-worker Becky (Jenny Ledel), comedy, with a strong dose of reality ensues.
In the action that follows, Gionfriddo masterfully blends her brand of laugh-out-loud humor with some fairly heavy subject matter.
It's something we can all relate to; our family is crazy, what aspects of the madness do we confront and what do we just let go? And sometimes isn't it better not to know what they really think about you? As Suzanna's mother Susan (Cindy Beall) bluntly puts it; "Sometimes lying is the most merciful thing we can do."
Audience members were overheard marveling at David Walsh's funky and creative set, which led to easy transitioning between scenes despite staging in the black box.
Under Parker's direction the five actors in "Becky Shaw" perform Gionfriddo's play with the perfect combination of riotous comedy and genuine heart. Spillman's comedic timing was off during the first act, but the second act she was spot-on; the perfect foil to both Hartman's Max and Federico's Andrew, not the easiest feat, Max and Andrew's character's being polar opposites on the macho scale.
Ledel as the seemingly innocent Becky is vulnerable and manipulative in turns and Beall as Suzanna's difficult and stubborn mother plays the part perfectly, delivering some excellent zingers in the final act.
For as much laughter as takes place during the play however, audience-members still leave the play with much to think about. At the play's inception Suzanna ponders, "Maybe life is hideous and we are given little pockets of joy with which to get by." Maybe so.