Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Theater review: Becky Shaw at Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas
This is a loud, bold piece.
DALLAS I am a romantic at heart. Honest communication with my wife of more than three years is of vital importance to me and my marriage. I am exactly the type of person that playwright Gina Gionfriddo hopes to get under the skin of with Becky Shaw, her darkly twisted comedy about bad manners, awful sex, and marriage as a metaphor for prison.
The Texas regional premiere, presented by Dallas’ Kitchen Dog Theater, shines a light of depravity on five characters over the course of its 2 hour and 20 minute running time. Each one tows a distinct line of moral ambiguity towards the relationships that they hold most dear. They often behave in egregiously selfish and unlikable ways, speak in scathing and harsh truths, and occasionally surprise you with glimpses of goodness.
If forced to spend a random hour sipping coffee with any one of these fictional beings, it would be at gunpoint and against my will, but through this vicarious viewing experience, I was thoroughly entertained and provoked in a meaningful way in a manner that only good theater can provide.
Directed by Tina Parker, the opening scene leaves much to be desired with its languid pacing and meandering introduction to its two principle leads, Max Garrett and Suzanna Slater. The two are awaiting Suzanna’s mother in a three star hotel in New York City. They share amusing, but inane banter, keeping the audience on its disjointed toes as one must map through whom Max and Suzanna are to each other.
It is a deliberate ruse that at different times Max and Suzanna come across as married, siblings, friends with benefits, or childhood friends as their pseudo-incestuous relationship seemingly has no boundaries. Patient and attentive theatergoers will be richly rewarded for sitting through this laborious, but necessary groundwork as each following scene thereafter stirs the pot of their controversial relationship. All of it is instigated with a blind date set-up between Max and a wild card by the name of Becky Shaw, played by Jenny Ledel.
All I will say of the plot from this point forward is that the notion of a blind date is the only unoriginal concept in this satisfyingly, unpredictable relationship think-piece, owing as much to the literature of Jane Austen as it does to the comic-styling of George Carlin and Chris Rock.
The ensemble cast is collectively no slouch in elevating the already rich source material. Max Hartman, as the truth-telling lothario Max Garrett, exercises his character’s razor sharp wit with a cold and dexterous ease that keeps you captivated without ever risking becoming completely unlikeable.
Leah Spillman, as Suzanna Slater, portrays the most relatable character as someone who must contend with the implications of emotional intimacy with someone other than her spouse. Though the character never behaves in a way that is understandable, in Slater’s hands she is always believable.
Michael Federico portrays Andrew Porter as an idealistic wannabe writer who is set up to be the script’s intended boob, but Porter infuses a healthy subtext of a husband more capable of deviance than at first appears.
Ledel has the dubious challenge of portraying the title role of Becky Shaw’s most polarizing character. In lesser hands, it would be easy to regard Becky Shaw as only a plot device to raise the emotional stakes as she attempts to blackmail another, but Ledel never risks being marked with that label as she makes it clear that the character is unaware of the consequences of her own actions.
Cindy Beall, as Susan Slater, rounds out the cast as the matriarch to all of these lost souls. Her character laments with arguably the most controversial monologues of the play. Tightropes were invented for the skill in which she handles her speech, comparing the various degrees of sexuality to intellectualism.
The black box theater is the right venue for this intimate and in your face comedy, with all visible pieces being used as a unit set. The actors themselves are responsible for the scene changes and Lisa Miller’s lighting design handles these transitions smoothly. Sound designer John M. Flores deserves credit not only for his haunting but appropriately hip musical choices, but also for assimilating a collection of offbeat renditions of top 40 hits that would sound great in the living room of anyone’s home. I can’t get that jazzy and disturbing cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” out of my head.
Since this was my first experience at this theater, I can’t say for sure if the exposed rigging is a staple of the Kitchen Dog, but it is certainly appropriate given a character’s poignant metaphor of “a rock concert on the ocean.” The rigging symbolizing the characters adrift at sea.
“A rock concert on the ocean”… is the perfect way to describe this must see theatrical experience. It is loud, bold, some may want to cover their ears in shock of the things they hear, and its melancholy ending will leave audiences debating if the characters’ accepted resolutions are justified or not.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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