Some 150 years ago, Becky Sharp found her way from William Thackeray’s imagination onto the pages of “Vanity Fair.”
More recently, another disarmingly blunt young woman named Becky found her way from the imagination of playwright Gina Gionfriddo (the talented author of sharp-witted comedy for the stage and smart TV crime drama like “Law and Order”) to the New York stage as “Becky Shaw.”
Gionfriddo’s work moved the New York Times to rave, “As engrossing as it is ferociously funny … like a big box of fireworks fizzing and crackling across the stage,” and moved the Pulitzer committee to make it a finalist for the playwriting prize.
Tonight, “Becky Shaw” will find its way to a local stage as South Coast Repertory opens the play for a run through Nov. 21.
SCR is adding another intriguing element to this play by a modern woman about a modern woman, choosing for its director yet another modern woman, Pam MacKinnon. Not that she only directs plays by women; Pam has directed numerous Edward Albee productions, at his request. At SCR, the request came from Richard Greenberg for Pam to direct his play “Our Mother’s Brief Affair.”
In the hands of Gionfriddo and MacKinnon, Becky Shaw is the tantalizing topic of conversation in the first act, and then she appears—unsure, overdressed and socially ambitious. But watch out because Becky is no shrinking violet. The silkily cynical (and equally charismatic) Max finds that out when his blind date with Becky ends at the police station.
That’s just the beginning (or rather the middle) of this surprising comedy thriller about two mis-matched 30-somethings, the newlyweds, Suzanna and Andrew, who set them up and have since found their own relationship on rocky ground; and Suzanna’s mother, Susan—recently widowed, physically impaired and tart-tongued, with an off-stage lover who is bleeding her dry.
“This play really excites me in that it deals with a lot of taboos,” said MacKinnon. “It’s a play you can talk about.”
MacKinnon, who calls herself a Gionfriddo “repeat offender” because this is the fourth time she has directed one of her plays, says she saw the New York production of “Becky Shaw” and was struck by the way it affected the people around her: “It was wonderful to be in a room where you could really feel the audience keep switching their allegiances.”
Which is music to the ears of Gionfirddo, who says her favorite plays “are ones that start arguments.”
Angela Goethals, seen at SCR in “Nothing Sacred,” as well as in NewSCRipts and Pacific Playwright Festival readings, plays Becky.
In his SCR debut, Brian Avers portrays Max. He appeared Off-Broadway in Tom Stoppard’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll” and Martin McDonagh’s “Lieutenant of Inishmore” and Off-Broadway at The Public Theater as Edgar in “King Lear.”
Tessa Auberjonois (as Suzanna) returns to the local stage after her hilarious performance as Chick in “Crimes of the Heart,” her sixth SCR production, and Graham Hamilton (“Saturn Returns” and Laertes in “Hamlet” at SCR) plays Andrew.
Rounding out the major players is Barbara Tarbuck is Susan, and her SCR history is long and legendary, beginning with Craig Lucas’ “Blue Window” in 1985. She starred on Broadway in David Mamet’s “The Water Engine,” Harold Pinter’s “Landscape & Silence” and Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” She has extensive regional theater credits, and her television credits include 14 years as Jane Jax on “General Hospital.”
Cast members and the SCR literary team will hold two post-show discussions with the audience, following the performances on Wednesday, Nov. 3, and Tuesday, Nov. 9.
“Becky Shaw” will be on the Segerstrom Stage at SCR Tuesdays through Sundays, dark Mondays, through Nov. 21. Tickets are $20-$66, with low-priced preview performances tonight through Oct. 28. For show times and tickets, call 714-708-5555 or visit www.scr.org.