A Britney Spears hit pulsating out of the speakers as the audience walks into the theater, drinks and pieces of cake in hand. A voice comes over the speakers announcing that the performance will begin in five minutes, and audience members excitedly settle into their large plush seats and take in the space. The luckier audience members get seats right in the middle of the room, and are instructed to swivel as scenes play out on either side of them. It is an exciting start, and as the lights go down and the music comes on, we’re all ready to be on the edge of our seats.
And Becky Shaw certainly has us on edge. From the very beginning its central characters’ sharp words and depressing perspectives on life strike a chord, making the audience want to know more about the relationships between these screwed-up people. Becky Shaw, though the titular character, is in no way central to this play. Instead the play follows the life of Suzanna (Amy Rubenstein, Windy City’s multi-talented founder – read her profile here “Windy City Playhouse: Meet Amy Rubenstein”) after the death of her father. The first scene depicts her intense depression, her intense co-dependent relationship with foster brother Max (Michael Doonan) and her frustrated yet obsessive attention to her verbally abusive mother, also Suzanna (Suzanne Petri), who has multiple sclerosis. Fast-forward six months and Suzanna is married to Andrew (Michael Pogue), a grad school classmate she met on a field trip. Andrew and Suzanna decide they want to set Max up with Andrew’s co-worker Becky Shaw (Carley Cornelius)- whom Andrew describes as a bit “delicate.” It is a terrible match, and what ensues involves a disastrous date and a series of escalating conflicts.
Placed in three areas of the stage, Becky Shaw is impeccably directed by Scott Weinstein to allow the actors the full potential to enact playwright Gina Gionfriddo’s captivating script. As the stakes get higher and the arguments between characters become fiercer, the blocking and the body language between them amplify the shifting nature of the relationships. As Becky Shaw herself slowly reveals a complicated and neurotic nature, the four other characters’ reactions to her absurdity reveal even more about their own natures.
Becky Shaw is an uncomfortable and terrifying play. Its intricacies and range present a major challenge to its actors, one that every single one of them lives up to. While the end of the play is a bit confusing, it generally challenges us to think about the way that we live our lives and interact with one another. Becky Shaw is not for the faint of heart, nor for anyone wishing for an easy, fun comedy. But for anyone willing to truly think, it’s worth attending.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
All photos by Michael Brosilow.
September 27-December 17
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 PM
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM
Windy City Playhouse
3014 West Irving Park Road
For more information visit the Windy City Playhouse Website.