Regional Theater Review: BECKY SHAW (South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa)

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by Harvey Perr on November 14, 2010

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Gina Gionfriddo is smart. She has gone to no less brilliant a writer than William Makepeace Thackeray for inspiration.

Becky. Gionfriddo’s contemporary gold digger, in her desperation to worm her way out of her class and into a marriage that seems recklessly impossible, even owes her name to Becky Sharp, the legendary literary heroine of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.

Shaw. Well, it’s safe to say that Gionfriddo has a yearning to be a latter-day George Bernard Shaw.

Voila. Becky Shaw. And, in the program, Gionfriddo uses quotes from Bertrand Russell, Immanuel Kant, Cesare Pavese and Aristotle, among others. Like I said, smart.

But what we have here, once again, is a lot of our local reviewers reviewing not the play on stage at South Coast Repertory but the play’s inflated reputation. It may very well have been, with a crackerjack ensemble of New York actors, hilariously funny when it made its off-Broadway debut, but, here, the estimable director Pam MacKinnon seems to have lost her way and her ear, unable to locate the playwright’s voice or the sound of East Coast accents. Angela Goethals, in the title role, brings some seriously needed comic charm to the play, but, oddly enough, her character is ultimately the least convincing of the play’s five characters; she is less a stand-in for Becky Sharp than a spokesperson for some not-fully-digested ideas Gionfriddo is trying to express about love and money in our jaded times. The other characters are more freshly observed.  The central character Max Garrett (Brian Avers) is a cold, self-centered and money-mad young rake who shouts at people rather than talk to them and who literally fucks his women and leaves them (including the one he claims to love). His streak of mean-spiritedness makes him such an unpleasant bully that it is hard to find funny his swift jabs of sarcasm.

But it’s not the production or the actors who are totally to blame. It is this reviewer’s  contention that, even if brilliantly done, the play would feel like a pilot for a television series. The characters crack wise, are monotonously unchanging and are just vulnerable enough to keep television audiences happy for a season or two. It comes as no surprise that Gionfriddo is writing for television these days. That’s good news. Television needs all the smart writers it can find. In the theater, however, where one expects more, Becky Shaw seems both a little too smart for its own good and not quite smart enough.

photos by Scott Brinegar/SCR

Becky Shaw
South Coast Repertory
655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa
ends on November 21, 2010
for tickets, call 714.708.5555 or visit SCR

{ 1 comment }

MicroMovieReviews November 18, 2010 at 9:07 am

Just saw this production last night on a total whim, and I was really energized by being in the hands of a short-list Pulitzer Prize nominated play, a whip-smart writer, and a supremely talented cast.

“Beck Shaw” is a modern day “Burn This” with more humor and all the keys to great story-telling: human nature’s flaws intelligently on display, secrets, lies, and painful truths told at just the right time. Add just the right pitch of humor – and that’s two hours well spent. (Sad to see the theater only 2/3 full, but…it was a Wednesday night.)

Doesn’t surprise me to read that the playwright – Gina Gionfriddo – is working on Boardwalk Empire on HBO. I’ll add it to my DVR to try and catch more of her world class work.

Bravo to SCR and all involved! Go see “Becky Shaw” while you can!

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