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LA Theater Review

Becky Shaw

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Modeled after the conniving Becky Sharp in Thackeray's novel "Vanity Fair," Becky Shaw (Angela Goethals) has many of the same ambitions: to marry well, acquire money, and deceive those around her into believing her a sympathetic character. Sprinkled throughout this production of Gina Gionfriddo's contemporary comedy of manners are more than a few laughs.

Becky appears first as a blind date for arguably the most interesting character in the play, Max Garrett (Brian Avers). He is a wealthy and successful financial adviser to matriarch Susan Slater (Barbara Tarbuck). Without parents to care for him, he has grown up in the Slater household since he was 10 years old and now covets an adult relationship with Suzanna Slater (Tessa Auberjonois), Susan's daughter. Though married early on in the story to a seemingly nice guy, Andrew Porter (Graham Michael Hamilton), Suzanna is drawn to Max but realizes that her chance for happiness depends on distancing herself from their unsuitable relationship. Max's date with Becky unleashes the shifting moral values of the characters, and as complications ensue, it's hard to find anyone to root for. As a result, Gionfriddo turns to humorous dialogue to make palatable her characters' behaviors.

Under the direction of Pam MacKinnon, Avers is a standout as the acerbic Max, a master of the pregnant pause and studied reaction. He delivers his zinging words in unconstrained frustration as he battles Becky's machinations. Goethals' bland demeanor as Becky belies the character's increasingly cunning plans as she ingratiates herself with the Slaters, much to the dismay of the outmaneuvered Max. Tarbuck is amusing as the reigning doyenne, with pithy lines to dispatch. Auberjonois and Hamilton also offer well-crafted characterizations.

Daniel Ostling's well-decorated set and Lap Chi Chu's precise lighting help portray the lifestyle Becky craves. Sara Ryung Clement's amusing costumes for Becky are cleverly offbeat. Good actors, good direction, and sharp wit elevate this fairly conventional story. Gionfriddo is a playwright to watch.

Presented by and at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Oct. 29–Nov. 21. Tue.–Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thu.–Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. (714) 708-5555 or www.scr.org.

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