Dark family comedies always start small, establishing the broken dynamic between two characters before introducing the rest of the bickering, disjointed family. Then, almost always, an outsider slips in, and suddenly everything gets worse. Occasionally though, the stranger makes things better.
In Becky Shaw, directed with wicked glee by Barry Martin—playing one more week at 6th Street Playhouse before moving to the Napa Valley Playhouse for two weeks—playwright Gina Gionfriddo takes both of those approaches, adds some of the most scathingly hilarious dialogue in recent memory and somehow mashes it all together into one riveting, weirdly funny story.
Suzanna (a first-rate LC Arisman) is an aimless college student wrestling with the fact that her late father squandered the family fortune, her mother Susan (Mollie Boice, her usual ball-busting magnificence played to full hilt) has taken up with a much younger man—and she's just had a one-night stand with her adopted brother Max (a steadily seething John Browning). Urged by Max to take some time to find herself, Suzanna impulsively meets and marries the amiable Andrew (Skylar Evans, all selfish-sweet and puppy-doggy), who works with a fragile but interesting woman he thinks might be a good match for Max.
When Becky Shaw (Taylor Bartolucci DeGuillio) arrives for the blind date, overdressed in a fluffy pink dress that Max derides as looking like a birthday cake, it's clear that things are about to go south. For one thing, something is clearly very wrong with Becky Shaw.
There are two ways to play a character like Becky. Some would make her seem as normal as possible, and then gradually reveal little hints as to exactly how weird—and potentially dangerous—she might be. Others will let you know from the first entrance that we are looking at a mad woman. That's the approach Bartolucci DeGuillio takes, and she runs with it, giving Becky a wild series of ticks and jitters that will delight some while making others wish she'd taken the more subtle, gradually unfurling approach.
That is just one of many juicy topics audiences will want to debate after catching Becky Shaw, a play that is deeply challenging, charmingly infuriating and always painfully hilarious.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★