A blind date with adulthood
By Maura Judkis
Friday, May 31, 2013
Think of young adulthood as a game of musical chairs: When the music stops ---- by about age 35 ---- the players are expected to pair off with whatever “chair” they’ve landed on. Some, however, end up without a match.
In the play “Becky Shaw,” now at Round House Theatre, the music has stopped for one 30--something couple, Suzanna and Andrew, but their friends Max and Becky have been left standing. They’re fixed up, but it goes about as well as most blind dates ---- poorly.
“Once you bring someone into someone’s life, there are consequences because people’s emotions get involved,” says actor Will Gartshore, who plays Max. “You can go into [blind dating] very casually . . . but there’s a huge responsibility to it.”
All the young adults in the play must deal with the fallout from Max and Becky’s bad date, but it’s one unlucky turn among many. More than just about dating, “Becky Shaw” centers on 30--somethings navigating adulthood and its accompanying minefields ---- whether that’s defining boundaries, learning a new communication style or mourning a serious loss.
“They’re trying to figure out how to become the adults they want to be, and how to let go of some of the traps and habits of their pasts,” says director Patricia McGregor. “Being in my 30s myself, all of my friends are in that phase of life . . . something happened to me when I turned 30. I woke up and said, ‘Now is when I want to choose who I want to be in the world.’ ”
Who McGregor became, by the way, was a New York director who helmed the world premiere of Katori Hall’s “Hurt Village” and coached Patti LaBelle in “Fela!”
Gina Gionfriddo’s “Becky Shaw,” a 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist, is McGregor’s first full production in Washington. She says she was drawn to the play because of its sharp humor and shifting moral ground, which pits characters against each other constantly.
“My alliances with these characters change with each reading,” she says. “It’s a mystery for the audience to figure out who they align with, and who they identify with.”
All five personalities in the script are easy to love, and easy to hate.
“I think all the characters in the play are incredibly seductive and incredibly repellant,” Gartshore says. His character epitomizes both: Max is a longtime family friend of Suzanna’s, but his good deeds always come at a price. As he, Becky, Andrew, Suzanna and her mother hash out their problems, he’s one part manipulative cad, one part white knight.
“You’ve got 30 years of loading up the powder keg, and you light the fuse with strong personalities who are increasingly desperate for love and companionship,” Gartshore says. “And I think that’s something that people will identify with.”
The dynamics of unhealthy relationships also are being explored on other area stages. Signature Theatre recently wrapped its production of “The Last Five Years,” about the ups and downs of a marriage, and just opened Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” about commitment--phobia and the single vs. coupled life. And at Studio Theatre, Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” tackles adultery and honesty.
It all might sound very grim, but “Becky Shaw” is a comedy, and McGregor and Gartshore are confident the audience will laugh even while recognizing themselves in each character.
“If we were in the middle of the argument, we wouldn’t find it the least bit funny,” Gartshore says. “But watching it, we’re like, ‘Oh, my God, we’ve been here 100 times.’ ”