By Sarah Downs
This is the inaugural production of The Community NYC, and what a way to introduce yourself to the crowded NYC theatre scene. Love, anger, grief, money, family relationships — “Becky Shaw” fairly burst with plot lines, making for an interesting night of theatre. The play centers around the character of Suzanna Slater, who is the kind of woman who sucks the air out of any room she enters. Her strong personality dominates the play. We first meet Suzanna holed up in her bedroom mourning the recent death of her father and binge watching CSI procedurals on t.v. and refusing to speak to her mother sitting downstairs with her new man. As she grieves, Suzanna marvels at how swiftly her mother Susan has moved on to a new relationship. A graduate student in psychology, she attempts to analyze the situation, but it is too close for comfort. Adding to the emotional brew, her financial analyst stepbrother Max, the voice of sanity, arrives desperate to shake Suzanna and her mother Susan out of their denial of their newly impoverished circumstances, and the net of complicated family relationships begins to weave itself — but when are family relationships ever easy? Susan does not trust Max, thinking he is just trying to get his hands on her money, Suzanna is wrapped in her grief and confusion, and Max discovers his feelings for Suzanna have taken a turn toward the romantic. It turns out the feeling is mutual. Yay. As if that’s not enough, Suzanna further complicates her life by marrying the gentle Andrew Porter who is clearly overwhelmed by Suzanna’s powerful personality. Max is still in the picture, however, and when Becky Shaw arrives on the scene as his blind date, the fireworks really begin.
Written with intensity and humor, the play sets the action against a backdrop of confusion, as several stories run parallel. Life is complicated, but it can also be really funny. Sean Devare has dressed the characters iconically — the business man in a suit, the grad student in her groovy comfy clothes, the artsy guy with just the right amount of slouch, letting us know who the characters are supposed to be (or perhaps think they are). Cheerful lighting design by Benjamin Ehrenreich and the sunshiny hues and soft pillows of the cleverly designed modular set designed by Andrew Diaz belie the human tumult. Lush, romantic music, well chosen by sound designer Daniela Hart plays during the intervals, tantalizing us with the dream of storybook romance, only to drop us back into the thrashing world of people who seem determined to make life difficult. This contrast of sight and sound tells its own story, heightening the difference between this family’s fantasy and reality. For crying out loud, people. Life really could be beautiful, but this family is determined to live the ugly. To them, pain is reality.
Director Elena Kritter faces a daunting challenge of telling so many stories in a small space. She handles this with aplomb, making the stage feel bigger through the various configurations of the modular set to create several distinct environments, each with its own personality. This is no mean feat, as limited space also dictates a more limited theatrical gesture. One feels her assured directorial hand as she allows the actors to follow their own rhythms yet also keeps the swirling plot lines pretty well focused. A play that could stall at many turns to moves forward only with the occasional drop in energy, mostly presented by inevitable scene changes, which the actors perform seamlessly. The actors do not fall behind the pace of the show, each telling his own story with skill. The excellent Carson Alexander, as Max, hits the stage running, bringing with him a bright, exciting energy that does not flag throughout the play. We are left in no doubt as to who he is. In direct opposition, S. Quincy Beard as Susan is the perfect foil, with her slow speaking Southern gentility and unwavering assurance that she is right, no matter what anyone says. She floats along in her fantasy of love with her new beau, whom we never see, but whose presence we feel through Ms. Beard’s nuanced performance. As Suzanna’s long suffering husband Andrew, Alec Wirth offers us the kind of gentle guy who loves a wounded bird. He at times appears a bit powerless in the face of Suzanna’s inexorable intensity, but have no fear, he’s no fool. You just want to hug him. A lot. And that imp Becky Shaw. Just who is she? Who is the woman behind that curtain? Carly Forde tells us in her own compelling way and on her own time.
Carrying the show,Jac Grady as Suzanna brings an appropriate frenetic sensibility to the role. Suzanna is a bit of a caged animal, looking for the door that will set her free, if she could just figure out what “free” meant. Ms. Grady’s performance was initially a bit lackluster but she developed steam as the evening progressed. She appears in almost every scene, an exhausting task, and I am confident she will grow in the role as she gains her ‘sea legs.’ She’ll find her way to inhabiting the outsize space her character demands and we’ll see her sparkle.
By Gina Gionfriddo, Directed by Elena Kritter
presented by The Community NYC
September 17th – 27th 2015 at The Grand Theater at The Producers Club, 358 West 44th St.
Tickets: $18.00 at http://www.thecommunitynyc.bpt
The cast features Carson Alexander (A Hard Rain/Theatre for the New City), S.Quincy Beard (Mourning Lily/The Collective), Carly Forde (A Christmas Ham/The Peoples Improv Theater), Jac Grady (Jesus Christ Superstar w/Tony Award Winner Ben Vereen), and Alec Wirth (Where We Go/Columbia University Theatre).
The creative team includes set design by Andrew Diaz (Smoke/The Flea Theater), lighting design by Benjamin Ehenreich (Owners/Yale Repertory Theatre), sound design by Daniela Hart (I Wrote On Your Wall And Now I Regret It/Wild Project), graphic design by Sean Devare (The Shakespeare Forum), and stage management by Jenny Ainsworth (A Midsummer Night’s Dream/CSC Young Company).
This production is registered with the newly created New York Innovative Theatre Awards for Off-Off Broadway theatre. Voting is at http://www.nyitawards.com