BECKY SHAW at SF Playhouse a winner

In SF Playhouse staging of Becky Shaw, Becky breaks down at the family house. Featured: Liz Sklar, Brian Robert Burns, Lorri Holt, Lauren English and Lee Dolson

Regional Premiere BECKY SHAW by Gina Gionfriddo, directed by Amy Glazer. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter Street (one block off Union Square, b/n Powell & Mason), San Francisco, CA 94102. 415.677.9596 or January 24th through March 10th, 2012

This review is being written from a very personal standpoint and is unfairly biased. Having attended the mesmerizing world premiere of Becky Shaw at the 2007 Humana New American Play Festival at Actors Theatre in Louisville, expectations for SF Playhouse’s production were high and would not have been missed. You too should not miss their stunning, superbly acted and directed staging but there is a caveat.

It is the perfect vehicle for the cutting edge philosophy espoused by this top-notch group and they obviously have lavished a great deal of ardor in mounting the show. Artistic director and designer Bill English is a master at creating fantastic, intricate sets that have often received honors. The set(s) for this multi-scene play is a marvel of moving walls that seamlessly change depicting the diverse locales. And here’s the rub: Those scene changes with entire walls being moved on and off stage detract from the intense interaction of the characters and compete with the story line.

That viewpoint was not universal since half the audience rose to their feet at the end of the play. That response, rather than the usual standing ovations for previous shows, may have been triggered by the ambiguous ending written into the script.

Dysfunctional characters and relationships abound in Becky Shaw and it is what you could expect from Gina Giofriddo who is a main-stay writer/producer for TV’s Law and Order. The play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize having an extended run Off-Broadway and a similar run in London before this West Coast premiere. The title character Becky Shaw does not make an appearance until late in the first act. It is a jaw dropping entrance that Lauren English handles with assurance depicting Becky’s insecurity and reticence on meeting her blind date Max (Brian Robert Burns).

Before that spectacular entrance Gionfriddo masterfully sets up the other characters with consummate skill and line by line clearly defines the interactions but never suggesting the bizarre complications that are to come. In the tightly written first scene we meet psychologist Suzanna Slater (Liz Sklar) who is still bemoaning the death of her father four months earlier. Max, her adoptive brother is a successful investor looking after the dwindling family estate of the widowed mother Susan Slater (Lori Holt) who, very shortly after her husband death, has taken on an unseen unsavory lover even though she is in the early/later stages of multiple sclerosis.

When the scene shifts it is 4 months later and Suzanna has married would be writer Andrew (Lee Dolson) who supports them (sort of) working in a dreary office. Becky happens to be working with do-gooder Andrew who arranges for Becky and Max to meet even though Suzanne knows that Max is a “part-timer, meaning that after three months he dumps his girlfriends. It just happens that Becky who has screwed up at her Ivy League University scholarship, been dumped by two black boyfriends and cut off by her racist family is desperately looking for true love. Thus it is when Becky arrives in a red seductive, strapless, mini-dress for the first date. Wow! The audience gasps.

It is a disastrous date that gets short circuited by a holdup involving a gun, then a trip to the police station and an eventual sexual tryst in a hotel room even though Max dislikes her. Further complications ensue and the play just gets better with the unraveling of true feelings leading to unsettling consequences that Gionfriddo mines with her consummate writing genius.

And there you are with the story, but that is only the framework on which Gionfiddo hangs her brilliant thoughts on morality and our responsibility to strangers with one line F-laced zingers that explode across the stage apron. The line that Bill Clinton’s sexuality cost Hilary the Presidency created an explosion in the audience. All actors play their roles flawlessly and they clash with vigor yet work as an ensemble.

The evening is thoroughly enjoyable with delicious wisecracks, tense drama, sharp acting and spot on directing by Amy Glazer. Liz Sklar gives a tour de force performance as the emotionally damaged Suzanna and is equally matched by Brian Robert Burns’ portrayal of the brutally honest, non-politically correct Max. Lee Dolson makes the most of the passive personality written into his role and Lorri Holt’s acting ability shines through in the role of a physically challenged individual maintaining a strong personality.

Running time is about two hours plus a 10 minute intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of