Anyone who’s ever spent a few days home from work, or isn’t currently employed or independently wealthy (oh sure, there’s plenty of those), or simply anyone who has ever spent any time at all watching those addictive daytime dramas for any length of time, because they have a lot of time to waste, can tell you one sure thing-the soaps are populated with characters possessing no sense of decency, no moral values whatsoever, and they bear absolutely no resemblance to living, breathing human beings in any world we currently reside in.
On daytime television, it’s often quite ludicrous, albeit highly watchable. On stage, when characters like that are created by true artists, they don’t resemble cartoons; instead, they illuminate heretofore shady corners of our natures and make us all complicit in their misdeeds. To whit, I point to one of the most enjoyable plays about awful, miserable people to show up on a New York stage in some time-“Becky Shaw”, a play written by “Law and Order” veteran scribe Gina Gionfriddo and superbly produced by Second Stage. It is beautifully directed by Peter DuBois and played out by the tightest ensemble company off-Broadway has to offer. Ok, okay, one of the TWO tightest ensembles now off-Broadway. More about the other one later.
Here’s the thing about “Becky Shaw”. It’s characters are all sure to offend you in one way or another. They are often loathsome, usually self-absorbed and thoughtless, and commit heinous misdeeds without considering the effects of those actions on their fellow human beings. And yet, this could be two of the most enjoyable hours you’ll ever spend with people you’d most likely never want to spend two minutes with in real time. To describe this as a play about a blind date gone wrong would be doing it a terrible disservice-and yet, to tell you too much more could ruin the experience altogether. It’s a play about people who’ve been abused in the past, and because of said abuse, will spend the rest of their lives abusing the people they love and/or hate for the rest of their days. The people of “Becky Shaw” are not morons, however, in fact, they are fiercely, scarily intelligent-which makes their actions all the more horrid. And yet-and here is the beauty of the piece-they will fascinate and titillate you as they create carnage all around them and decimate those unlucky enough to land in their sphere. The cast is incredible perfection. As the titular character, Annie Parisse is amazingly repellent and soberly sympathetic at the same time. She captures Becky’s borderline lunacy as she defines her perceptive intelligence. Relatively unknown actor David Wilson Barnes will be unknown not much longer after his career-making performance here. Stalking the stage like a mutant hybrid of David Morse and Michael Moriarity, he is supremely creepy and horrifically funny. It is a performance that must be experienced. The rest of the cast, Emily Bergl, Kelly Bishop, and Thomas Sadoski are terrific. “Becky Shaw” has been extended through mid-March at The Second Stage on W. 43rd Street. Get there.
The OTHER great ensemble company can be found at The Atlantic Theater Company in Chelsea starring in Garry Hynes’s production of Martin McDonagh’s brutally funny play, “The Cripple of Inishmaan”. Set in 1934 on the island of Inishmaan off the west coast of Ireland, this is a dark, viscous piece about the beaten down denizens of an island in a country strangled by poverty and disillusionment as the shadow of Adolf Hitler begins to lengthen across Europe. There was another production of this black comedy some dozen years ago at the Public Theater that starred some of NY’s best actors and actresses, but it was directed so badly and so cluelessly, that the evening was close to unbearable. Not many directors could have squandered the talents of so many fine performers as badly as, (we’ll call him Mr. X) did, but what a mess it was. It’s so much more gratifying, then, to see what beauty and brilliance the gifted Miss Hynes has coaxed out of a cast consisting of both Irish and American actors(I defy you to tell the difference tween them). If it’s a totally satisfying evening of finely honed writing, astute direction, and pyrotecnical theatrics you desire, this is exactly what you’re looking for. It too, has been extended through mid-March. In the past, both “Becky Shaw” and “Cripple of Inishmaan” would have been assured a move to Broadway with such audience pleasing pedigrees, but such moves are not as economically feasible as they used to be and not to be assumed a done deal.
Therefore, I recommend without hesitation, a visit to both.