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San Francisco by Patrick Thomas

Becky Shaw
6th Street Playhouse

Also see Richard's reviews of Failure: A Love Story and Body of Water


(back row) John Browning, Skylar Evans; (middle row) LC Arisman, mollie boice; (front row) Taylor Bartolucii DeGuilio
Late in the second act of Becky Shaw, currently playing in The Studio, the black box space at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, one of the characters declaims, "Sometimes lying is the most humane thing you can do." In that spirit, let me say that this production of Becky Shaw is a marvel, a tour de force of the theater arts that will touch your spirit and engage your mind and heart in a way that ... Sorry. I can't do it. I can't lie to you. Mendacity in anyone is an undesirable quality, but especially so for a reviewer. Our job is to speak the truth of our experience and let the chips fall where they may.

And the truth is that, although there is a wonderful play lurking somewhere at the heart of this hot mess of a production (and I mean that literally—with no air conditioning, The Studio can be stifling on a summer evening), this Becky Shaw is as aimless, unbalanced and needy as its titular character. Though director Barry Martin's blocking is efficient, and the music he's chosen to play between scenes is in keeping with the mood of the play, he's tone-deaf to any real sense of dynamic range in Gina Gionfriddo's text. It's either all shouting or all whimpering, with very little tonal subtlety to bridge the gaps.

Becky Shawis the story of a family that barely deserves the name. Matriarch Susan (mollie boice—yes, like k.d. lang and e.e. cummings, she prefers the lower case) and her daughter Suzanna (LC Arisman) snipe and bicker. Suzanna's adopted brother Max (John Browning) delivers his share of snark, too, except his vitriol is always based in reality, not emotion. In the opening scene, the three of them have come together in a hotel room to discuss the family's many pressing challenges. Dad has died a few months prior, leaving many debts and a business that's on far shakier ground than he led anyone to believe. Becky (Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio) appears a few months later, as a blind date for Max, set up by Suzanna and her new husband Andrew (Skylar Evans).

The actors—with one key exception—mouth their lines with all the delicacy of a vulture pecking at road kill. None of them ever really connect with each other in a genuine way. That's fine for the characters in the play—we're meant to experience their distance from each other, their inability to relate on a truly human level. It's not so great for the actors playing those characters. Again, with one exception, no one is really inhabiting this world. There's no real tension where there should be plenty.

Fortunately, there is that exception: LC Arisman. She stands alone at the center of all this familial tsuris, bringing a terrific focus and intensity to her role—not to mention the adorable grumpy cat face she pulls from time to time. It's too bad her talents are lost among the rest of the shrieking and scenery-chewing. boice's approach to her role seems to involve only three expressions: widening her eyes, staring down her nose, and a combination of the two. DeGuilio does an acceptable job of playing a neurotic lost soul, but can't seem to access the real depths of Becky. Browning and Evans never get rolling, either. Browning's better, as his character seems to lack any empathy—or social filter—and we see that. But we also see him working at acting, rather than inhabiting Max's prickliness. Andrew is pretty much all empathy, but Skylar Evans's sense of timing is so undeveloped and he is so disconnected from the rest of the action that it never comes through.

Spoiler alert—Max's blind date with Becky does not turn out well. On the bright side, at least he didn't take her to see this stinker.

Becky Shaw runs through July 13, 2014, in The Studio at the 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 general, $15 for seniors and youth 13-21) and $10 for children 12 and under on Thursdays, $25 general, $20 for seniors youth and $10 for children on the weekend. (This play, however, is unsuitable for children.) Tickets are available online at www.6thStreetPlayhouse.com, by calling the box office at (707) 523-4185 or during open box office hours.


Photo: Eric Chazankin


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Patrick Thomas



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