“If you look hard enough at anything or anyone, you will be revolted by them. It’s like those television commercials where they take a microscope into your kitchen and show you a lot of germs the naked eye can’t see.” So says one of the characters in A Public Fit’s production of Becky Shaw, now at Art Square Theatre. It’s actually not a bad description of Gina Gionfriddo’s dark comedy, which follows a quintet of characters through the horrors of family crises, financial setbacks and first dates. However, the end result is not revolting, but entertaining, thanks to witty dialogue and an awareness of its constantly shifting moral ground.
At the play’s opening, the patriarch of the Slater family has died, leaving his domineering widow Susan to swan around with her redneck boy toy while neurotic daughter Suzanna grieves in a pile of pillows with Law & Order reruns and adopted son/alpha male Max tries to right the family’s precarious economic situation. Skeletons are pulled out of closets, mostly to make room for more skeletons. And points of view are defended with barbed one-liners.
When we see them again, Suzanna has married Andrew, a hipster/slacker who is so thoughtful and sensitive that porn makes him cry. It’s Andrew’s bright idea to set up master-of-the-universe Max with the eponymous Becky Shaw, a temp at the office where Andrew works. Becky is a socially awkward waif who stumbles into every first-impression mistake possible—from the inappropriate outfit to the conversation-killing overshare to the mouthful of mixed nuts eaten right before being asked a question.
Unsurprisingly, their first date is an epic disaster, as everything from the mugging to the sex goes even worse than it should. But, rather than slink away in shame, Becky uses the shitshow as a vehicle to force herself into everyone’s lives. Her pathos hides a certain deviousness, but she’s not the only character whose justifications and motivations shift—Andrew’s kindness begins to look more like weakness, Max’s callousness hides a fear of abandonment, Suzanna finally starts to grow a spine. But none of the moves seem contrived, and the caustic, clever dialogue drives the play forward.
Becky Shaw isn’t a play that lends itself to flamboyant staging—director Ann-Marie Pereth focuses on the pacing and the performances, which are consistently strong. Kelli Andino manages to make you feel sorry for Becky at the same time you’re repulsed by her; Russell Jeff Feher as Max is a likeable asshole who has a hilariously withering way with a put-down. Becky Shaw may be a miserable first date, but it’s a fun night at the theater.
A Public Fit Theatre Company Presents Becky Shaw
Various showtimes through April 10, Art Square Theatre, $20-$25, 702-818-3422. APublicFit.org.