Review: 2nd Story's Becky Shaw is engaging

Emotional evolution
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  February 2, 2011

2nd-Story-(Warren)_main
BLIND DATERS Parker and Boghigian.

It's fascinating to watch what people put themselves through to insulate themselves from what they put themselves through through other people. Got that? Gina Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw is a sadly hilarious examination of one neurotic case that makes the syndrome a little clearer and a lot funnier than it is in the abstract. A fine 2nd Story Theatre rendition, directed by Ed Shea, is on the boards through February 6.

We get a glimmer of what's in store at the opening, when Max (Ara Boghigian) asks Suzanna (Rachel Morris) which of the Nightmare on Elm Street series has come up in her hotel channel surfing. Not only does she instantly know it's 3, but she pipes up with Freddy's next line. This apparently is a modern young woman accustomed to coping with the grim reality of life by acclimatizing herself to its extremes. Her father has just died and she doesn't want to see her mother Susan (Paula Faber), as psychologically fraught a prospect as Freddy. (The mother is here mainly as a bad example of womanhood, stuck on a victimizing boyfriend. She maintains that careful duplicity is the secret of a satisfying relationship.)

Max isn't Suzanna's boyfriend, he is virtually her brother, taken in by her father as a boy. Of course, since this is a romantic comedy, there is enough sexual tension in the situation to lead to more than brotherly advice.

Flash forward a year, to an apartment in Providence, and Suzanna is married to Andrew (Tim White), an unpublished writer but a patient mate. He's used to her displacing unresolved daddy issues onto him, despite her working on a graduate degree in psychology. Max doesn't take him seriously. (Pornography makes Andrew cry, which leaves Max dumbstruck.)

The playwright has fun with such references to Brown, where she learned her craft. When Suzanna mentions that there is a student drive to send books to Iraq, Max points out that the last thing IED-avoiding soldiers want is "a fucking underlined copy of To the Lighthouse."

Despite the title, this is largely, perhaps predominantly, Max's play, both because of Gionfriddo's fascination with the complex character and Boghigian's compelling, thoroughly internalized understanding of such a man, veering him away from blatant arrogance. Max makes good money as a financial advisor, and he gives a full 10 percent of his income to social concerns he can't personally do anything about and wants to relegate to the periphery of his attention. It's not that he's insensitive, he's efficient, fine-tuned to be just sensitive enough.

That's where Becky (Hillary Parker) comes in, a blind date set up for Max by Suzanna and Andrew. She might very well have blinded him with the hooker garb she shows up in, a bit of costume miscasting that makes her seem stupid rather than just overdressed. It's not that she's not smart (a Brown dropout), she's just incessantly unsure of herself, the polar opposite of Max. When they are mugged on their first date, he brushes off the incident and doesn't even admit he was terrified — or even, more importantly, that there was an uncomfortable psychological residue. He can't even accept that it was required, to retain his decent-person membership card, to return Becky's calls for comfort after the incident.

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