Review || Becky Sharp: cynical chic

Gremlin Theatre, through January 26

Olivia Wilusz and Kevin Fanshaw in Becky Sharp. Photo by Alyssa Kristine

It is almost halfway into Becky Shaw (at the Gremlin Theatre, through January 26) before the character of that name makes her first appearance. By that time, the extended Slater family has suffered financial collapse upon the death of the father and his wife has developed a relationship with a man of questionable reputation. The deceased father’s daughter, Suzanne, has mourned, had sex with her adopted brother and gotten married to a fellow she knew for only a few months. Whew! that is a lot of family disfunction in the hot, sixty minutes of Becky Shaw now at the Gremlin Theatre.

When character Becky Shaw (Chelsie Newhard) does enter the mix it only gets more complicated. Every person in this play has their own perspective and playwright Gina Gionfriddo seems to be channeling another Shaw, George Bernard Shaw, in her use of multiple interpretations of events. Each character has their own opinions, and in some cases, their own facts. Was Daddy a closeted homosexual? Is adoptee Max (Logan Verdoorn) the only stable person in the family or is he a macho financial wizard incapable of intimacy?

This is a dark comedy filled with zinging one liners as characters score points off one another. The whole play is well cast, including Kevin Fanshaw as the new husband and Jodi Kellogg in the commanding role as the matriarch of the Slater tribe. Olivia Wilusz could stand to be a bit stronger as the Slater daughter but she has the most difficult role. Her Suzanne Slater is a confused doctoral candidate in psychology searching for love and identity in horror movies and ski trips. The part demands that she teeter between melodrama and realistic sensitivity, not an easy ask.

I love seeing a new play by an unfamiliar playwright—even better when the show is being staged by one of my favorite theatre companies. Opening night of Becky Shaw set my expectations whirring. This is cynical chic done up in good style. It might be slightly dated however. In 2008 when the play Becky Shaw was premiered, audiences could savor a sweet evening sneering and yukking it up at the human condition. In 2020 it tends to leave a slightly sour aftertaste. Its anti-politically correct humor is more dangerous and its self-engrossed characters are less likeable. But there is plenty to discuss after the show and audience members can easily walk away repeating their favorite laugh lines.

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