BWW Review: BECKY SHAW Stuns At Gremlin Theatre
BWW Review: BECKY SHAW stuns at the GremlinBecky Shaw's characters are on a spectrum: somewhere between a disgusting reality and a beautiful fiction. Written by Gina Gionfriddo and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2009, this play asks its characters, and audience, to contemplate their own places on this spectrum between reality and fiction.
The story opens with a family nearly torn to shreds in the aftermath of the patriarch's death. Suzanna Slater is avoiding what's about to be an intense confrontation with her mother, Susan Slater, and the man, Max, who was raised as her brother. While trying to find common ground, this family exposes unsettling information in a sharp and a rather intense way. Throughout the course of a year, the audience is shown how the death of a loved one can open new wounds and potentially heal or make old ones worse.
One phrase is repeated throughout the play: sometimes lying is the most humane thing you can do. This overarching theme is woven through each of the relationships these characters have with each other and themselves. While some of the content of the story may be unsettling to some, those who are willing to dive into the intensity of the family's relationships will be pleased they did. Becky Shaw asks its audience, just as its characters, to face the often complicated relationships that go along with being a member of a family. Ellen Fenster, a seasoned director at the Gremlin, guided this production seamlessly to ensure these themes were revealed.
The most complicated relationship in the story is the one between Suzanna Slater and her sort-of brother Andrew Porter. Suzanna Slater, played by the flawless Olivia Wilusz, is not the most endearing of characters, but the way in which Wilusz portrays her makes her instantly relatable and captivating. Logan Verdoorn plays Max, a jagged and witty character, effortlessly. The skill of Wilusz and Verdoorn makes it easy to believe these two have known each other for 20 plus years. Minneapolis would be lucky to see more of these two for years to come.
Jodi Kellog portrays Susan, the razor-sharp matriarch of the family, in such a way that the audience quivers when she reminds Max of the old adage "No good deed goes unpunished." The ensemble is rounded out by the comedically-talented Kevin Fanshaw and Chelsie Newhard. These two provide the welcome and necessary foil to the intensity of the family relationships.
The thrust stage of the Gremlin worked perfectly for the production, allowing the audience to feel even more immersed in the drama of the story. The projections, designed by Emmet Kowler, strongly added to the simple design of the stage and allowed the audience to be harmoniously transported to the various locations of the story.
Life really is a spectrum between a (potentially) disgusting reality and a beautiful fiction. It's up to people to determine where they'd like to fall on the spectrum. Making the choice between humane lying and harsh truth is something everyone faces. Becky Shaw does precisely what theater is supposed to do: get the audience to examine their own realities. Take the challenge and immerse yourself into this pleasing production for just one more weekend. Becky Shaw runs through January 26th at the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Kristine Photography