By Wendy Rosenfield
FOR THE INQUIRER
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 www.MontgomeryTheater.org.