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vancouverplays review


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— Production poster

By Gina Gionfriddo
Mitch and Murray Productions
Studio 16, 1555 W. 7th Ave.
Nov. 20-Dec. 7
$29/$25 at

Mitch and Murray Productions’ Becky Shaw is easily one of Vancouver’s best productions of the year. Sharply directed by David Mackay with a pitch-perfect cast on David Roberts’ intimate open set in the round, this smart, nasty American drama has some of the best lines we’ve heard in a long time, and characters an actor would give an arm to play.

With a name like Gina Gionfriddo, you’d have thought we’d at least have heard of this playwright, even if her work hasn’t been done here before. I hadn’t--but what a revelation. Becky Shaw has a pedigree in the American theatre reaching back to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and beyond, but Gianfriddo gives the family-drama-as-civil-war play a variety of great new twists.

The central characters are emotionally liberal psychology student Suzanna (Meghan Gardiner) and cynical, hard-assed investment counselor Max (Aaron Craven). As a boy, Max was effectively adopted into Suzanna’s family by her father, who has recently died, and her mother Susan (Marilyn Norry), from whom Max seems to have learned some of his attitude. Suzanna and Max are like brother and sister, despite their polar opposite temperaments.

Both their families have tawdry backstories involving the fathers, Susan is also involved with a man of less than sterling character, and she drives Suzanna crazy, naturally. Things heat up further  when Suzanna marries barista Andrew (Charlie Gallant), a wannabe writer whom Max loathes, and Becky Shaw (Moya O’Connell) comes into their lives as a blind date for Max. Mysterious, emotionally damaged Becky is like a character out of Tennessee Williams, and she turns out to be more than a match for angry, abrasive, obnoxious, foul-mouthed Max.

Max and Susan have too many great acerbic lines to count, and both Craven and Norry are superb. Gardiner has the toughest role in that Suzanna, who is really the central character, mostly reacts to others, and seems just a little too naive to be real. But Gardiner manages to make her sympathetic and credible. O’Connell carves out a beautifully complex portrait of a woman who may be an über-victim or master manipulator—or both. Gallant does a nice job fleshing out slightly underwritten Andrew, Mr. Sincerity.

Taut, punchy, very funny dramatic storytelling and terrific performances make this a show not to be missed. Good on Mitch and Murray for bringing us this hot script and kudos to Mackay and his cast for making it sizzle.

Jerry Wasserman