Stage

A Public Fit’s bold acting brings ‘Becky Shaw’ to life

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Becky Shaw
Shawn Donley
Jacob Coakley

Four stars

Becky Shaw Through April 10, days & times vary, $20-$25. Art Square Theatre, apublicfit.org.

The characters in Becky Shaw, by Gina Gionfriddo, aren’t repressed people. They’re unafraid of loudly expressing their emotional viewpoints, both the warm and fuzzy kind and the politically incorrect, toughen up, pragmatic school. But even though characters know how to articulate their stances, they can still get cut by them, and A Public Fit’s razor-sharp production finds ways to make them bleed.

Max (played by Russell Jeff Feher) is the money manager for Suzanna (Rozanne Sher) and her mom, Susan (Charlene Sher), and he has some bad news for them about their estate. But his feelings for the family aren’t simply fiduciary, and when Suzanna and new husband Andrew (Mike Rasmussen) set him up on a blind date with the unknown Becky Shaw (Kelli Andino), things start to slither sideways.

Every scene has reverses, laughs and emotional traps, and under Ann-Marie Pereth’s directions the actors duck and weave through them all like skilled boxers. But I keep returning to a scene near the start of Act 2. Becky Shaw is wooing Andrew to her side, but somewhere in the scene the character switches from rank manipulation to something deeper, and Andino goes there fearlessly. She delivers a moment raw with emotional terror and loathing, and Rasmussen’s reaction is so truthful, so shocked, that the desperation hits home even deeper.

This is the essence of the play to me—people manipulating others to get what they want, but doing it with real emotion. They’re not seeking to take advantage of other people; they’re just desperate to get what they think they need. Andrew’s earnestness is often the butt of jokes in this play, but Rasmussen makes him real with an open attitude and genuine confusion. He’s a great scene partner for whomever he’s on stage with. Feher’s Max can threaten to bully his way over everyone, but his fear and hurt never feels far from the surface. I did wish he and Rozanne Sher had more chemistry in their scenes.

The production elements were not as clear as the acting. Eric A. Koger’s set jammed together bits of different locations, and while it mostly worked, it wasn’t clear at first what decoration belonged in whose apartment, leading to some character confusion. Josh Wroblewski’s lighting design ended scenes with bold choices to highlight scenes’ emotional buttons, but I’m not sure it was necessary—primarily because I’m even less sure what the lighting hoped to communicate.

But that’s ancillary to the play’s main action. The characters in Becky Shaw are articulate, mean and incredibly passionate. They’ll distract you with their verbal fireworks, then slide a dagger right to your heart.

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