BWW Review: Firecracker Productions Takes on Human Relationships in BECKY SHAW

BWW Review: Firecracker Productions Takes on Human Relationships in BECKY SHAW
Max Garret and Darin Montemayor in
BECKY SHAW. Photo courtesy of
Firecracker Productions.

Gina Gionfriddo's BECKY SHAW is my favorite kind of play. It explores the eternal ins and outs of personal relationships. It asks the basic questions: To whom do we owe loyalty, and at what cost? How do we set limits, and how do we abide by them? What are the consequences if we don't?

BECKY SHAW opened Off-Broadway in 2008, eventually becoming a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Firecracker Productions has mounted the play in Houston and, under the able direction of Kelsey McMillan, with strong performances from the young but superbly professional cast, BECKY SHAW can take its place among this season's best in H-town.

The plot, in a nutshell, begins with not-quite-siblings Max (Reed Walker) and Suzanna (Danielle Bunch) in a hotel room discussing the estate of their recently deceased father. Suzanna, unable to come to terms with the situation, is still grieving. Max, a financial consultant, is all bruisk and businesslike. They are awaiting their mother, Susan (Sammi Sicinski) to settle money matters. Susan, much to the chagrin of her children, is something of a merry widow and has moved on to a fling with a somewhat opportunistic and much younger man. This is a bone of contention. (First names get a little tricky here, but is solved by calling Suzanna "Suzy". It takes a minute to sort this out.)

Max wants to get the meeting over with, but Susan has other plans. Once she arrives, she insists on a nice dinner out first and reminds her children of her rule never to discuss money at the table. Max, his plans effectively stymied, reluctantly falls in line. The scene ends with Max and Suzanna back in the hotel room, where there is an unexpected complication, which I won't spoil.

Time elapses, and we pick up with Suzy and her new husband, Andrew (Nolan LeGault), a free-spirit type trying to be a writer. Their marriage was a quick elopement to Las Vegas after a brief acquaintance. Max is unhappy with the arrangement. Friction. And, though the couple plainly love each other, money is tight. More friction. These people could use a lifetime supply of WD-40.

Into this soupy mixture of resentment and unrequited love comes hapless and unsuspecting Becky Shaw (Darin Montemayor), a blind date that Andrew has set up for Max. Becky is a mess. The others have baggage; she has steamer trunks. Becky enters flustered; she got lost then walked around the block because she was early. Also, she is somewhat overdressed for a casual date, something Max is immediately rude enough to comment on. (Max is becoming something of a tool.) Things are off to a bad start, and they get worse.

With Becky as the catalyst, each character's insecurities and festering resentments come to the surface. Except for Susan, who maintains her equanimity throughout. Susan gives the best advice to her daughter Suzy, who thinks her husband Andrew is keeping things from her: married couples are entitled to their "pockets of privacy" and, without them, relationships are difficult to maintain. When Suzy counters, arguing that "pockets of privacy" are just secrets that you keep from your partner, Susan simply agrees.

BECKY SHAW's dialogue is brisk and sophisticated, and much of it is funny, albeit in a gallows humor sort of way. The cast handles the material with wit and grace, only lapsing into hysterics when they are called for. Reed Walker, as Max, accomplishes the subtly and nuance his role requires. Max projects a bravado he doesn't necessarily possess as he presents a facade of independence and capability. He is quite likable at the beginning, but goes much darker as the paint peels. Danielle Bunch, as the vulnerable and somewhat idealistic Suzanna, goes on a journey of self-discovery and comes to a thoroughly satisfactory conclusion. Sammi Sicinski, as Susan, initially comes off as an interfering mother and nagging mother-in-law, but is revealed to be the glue that holds them all together. She keeps her head when those around her are losing theirs. Nolan LeGault  is the bumbling but well-meaning Andrew. Andrew careens from one faux pas to another and he's often stuck in the middle. There is a nice comic edge to LeGault's performance, but he delivers a certain pathos as well. And then there's Becky, played with gusto by Darin Montemayor, transitioning from hopeless to helpless to hopeful, with an unexpected twist. She begins as a liability, but ends, if not exactly an asset, at least a possibility.

The play runs approximately two hours with one intermission. But since it's written in a dramatic arc, from a beginning to a middle to an end, the time is irrelevant. And the venue, a large studio space at the HUB on Sawyer, has some problems with seating and sight lines. But with an independent company such as this, it's to be expected, and the performance far outweighs the inconvenience.

The subject matter is as old as the theater, and it continues to be the rich source of drama that it has always been. Whether between friends, lovers, spouses, siblings, parents, or all of the above, these are situations in which we've found ourselves, or in which we can imagine finding ourselves; situations that are common to the human condition.

One more thing: Attendance on opening night was disappointingly sparse, and that needs to be remedied. If you want quality theater at the local level, you must support it by going as often as you can. Having been a member of a local company, I know first-hand how much work, effort, and money goes into a production such as this, and it's all for the love of theater. Nobody makes their fortune this way; a good season is one that breaks even. So if your nights out are limited, I strongly recommend that BECKY SHAW be one of them.

The Firecracker Productions staging of Gina Gionfriddo's BECKY SHAW, directed by Kelsey McMillan, continues through October 22 at Hub Studio Ste # 232, 1502 Sawyer Street.* Performances are at 8 p.m. October 14-15 and October 21-22. For more information, please visit eventbrite.com/e/becky-shaw-by-gina-gionfriddo-tickets-25684836036.

*Studio 232 is located in the main building, facing Sawyer, so park in that lot if possible and go in the front. Helpful people will be there to point your way.

 

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