Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: "Becky Shaw"

Close on the heels of the Wilma's terrific 2010 production of "Becky Shaw" comes the Montgomery Theater's, which is equally fine but for very different reasons, says critic Wendy Rosenfield.

Review: "Becky Shaw"


By Wendy Rosenfield

It might be a tough sell, getting audiences out to Souderton’s Montgomery Theater to see Becky Shaw. After all, Gina Gionfriddo’s acerbic, witty Pulitzer-nominated drama collected four Barrymore Awards for the Wilma Theater in 2010, and that production — with its bigger house, budget, and largely imported cast — seems as if it ought to be the definitive one for our region.

But it’s not. The Wilma’s production was excellent; this one is excellent also, but for completely different reasons. First, a play about the nuances in relationships between men and women works best in an intimate setting, and where the Wilma indulged in design gymnastics (its turntable featured several rooms divided by a peek-a-boo hallway), Montgomery presents complex characters first, leaving its simple design in the background.

Second, Kim Carson’s Becky, a “sad person” fixed up on a calamitous date with bulletproof Max (Damon Bonetti), possesses a dark flipside — buried at the Wilma — that ultimately shows her to be more than Max’s equal in both clear-eyed assessment and calculation. If that earlier production was all about Max’s orchestrations, this one, directed by Tom Quinn, levels the field, and explains why Gionfriddo titled it after Becky, not Max.

The shifting allegiances and enmities between Max and his surviving adoptive family, Suzanna (Rachel Brennan) and her mother, Susan Slater (Marcia Saunders), serve as the rocky foundation from which the trio operate. Max snipes at Suzanna, after whom he’s pined since childhood, “I want The Love Boat, I don't want a real boat with real lovers,” and “You would prefer a disgusting reality over a beautiful fiction.” But there’s also lots of talk about finding a center amidst life’s extremes. Suzanna favors her new husband Andrew (Will Dennis) over Max, who in turn favors 3-month relationships and bluster disguised as no-nonsense competence, because she instinctively knows what he has yet to realize: Love’s balancing act only works when the lovers keep one another from tipping too far in either direction.

Quinn has assembled a fine cast, with Bonetti and Brennan offering up equal amounts of friendly fire, while Carson and Dennis circle the pair’s periphery as if uncertain whether they’re predators or prey. Unfortunately, Gionfriddo wrote Susan primarily as a human fortune cookie, albeit a cranky one, and by directing her with a heavy-handed gravitas, Quinn doesn’t help things. Still, Saunders does the best she can, dispensing cold-blooded platitudes, and embodying her MS-stricken character with dignity.
The beauty of this production is that if Becky Shaw’s flaws are more visible up close, its strengths are even more so.

Through Feb. 25 at Montgomery Theater, 124 N. Main St., Souderton. Tickets: $22-$35. Information: 215-723-9984 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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