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Posts Tagged ‘Gina Gionfriddo’

American playwright Gina Gionfriddo provided one of the best new plays of 2010/11 with Becky Shaw, running over Christmas at the Almeida. This one doesn’t quite live up to that, but its good enough to make the schlep to Swiss Cottage at the start of a tube strike worthwhile.

Feminist writer Catherine returns New England from NYC to care for her mother and turns the lives of her ex Don and his wife Gwen upside down. Academic Don lacks ambition and drive and has descended into a quiet life of non-teaching role, beer and porn. Unfulfilled housewife Gwen looks after their two boys, born ten years apart, and is desperate to ensure her 13-year-old mummies boy fulfils his ambition. Don has a better relationship with the lively 3-year-old.

Catherine starts a feminist summer class at her mum’s home for just Gwen and her 21-year-old ex-babysitter Avery (herself in a troubled relationship) and re-kindles the flame with Don, which Gwen soon realises and reacts to rather mildly. For me, this is where it all gets a bit implausible as an elegant solution that suits everyone is developed.

Like the earlier play, it’s too slow to get going and becomes somewhat uneven. It’s difficult to like Catherine, Don or Gwen, so your sympathies are with mom Alice and young Avery, who also get all the best lines. The feminist debate is often engaging but sometimes rather dry. At its best, it sparkles, but it doesn’t sparkle enough.

It’s nicely set by designer Jonathan Fensom and the performances are all good, but I couldn’t help thinking it could have been a lot better if she’d focused more on the characterisation and less on the debate.

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After an awful lot of revivals, at last here’s the first good new play of the year – and an original, often surprising & often funny one it is too.

The first half’s two scene set up is a bit long, but the second half’s five scenes snap and crackle. We’re with a somewhat dysfunctional family soon after husband / dad’s demise. His widow has MS and a toy boy (who we never see) and her daughter a complex but close relationship with someone her dad took in after his mother died. After a whirlwind romance, she marries the opposite of her ‘friend’ (a penchant for younger men like her mum), then springs a blind date on the ‘friend’. At this point we meet the Becky of the title and begin a whirlwind of unexpected events which is where the play really takes off.

I suspect this production benefits from Director Peter DubBois’ experience with its original US production(s), because its slick but very believable. Jonathan Fensom’s set, with revolve borrowed from the NT (good to se Nicholas Hytner’s sharing strategy in action) enables the action to move between seven locations without slowing it down. The play flows well and there’s a roundedness about it that is very satisfying. As one might expect from a playwright (Gina Gionfriddo) who also writes about rock music, the snatches of music between scenes are well-chosen.

American import David Wilson Barnes is excellent as Max (and a real double for Kevin Spacey), but he does have the best lines, and I loved Daisy Haggard’s hapless Becky. We don’t see much of Haydn Gwynne except in the first and last scenes, but she’s very good as the acid-tongued mum. Anna Madeley and Vincent Montuel do well with much drier parts.

It’s not in the Jerusalem and Clybourne Park league, but its a very good play and a return to form for the Almeida. I smell a West End transfer…..

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