Review: Becky Shaw (Sterling Theatre Company)

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Becky Shaw, playing at the Sterling Theatre Company in Toronto, misses the comedic mark

Becky Shaw is billed as a comedy, but the Sterling Theatre Company‘s current production garnered only a few laughs on opening night. The emotional entanglements of the characters played out like melodrama most of the time. I can see the potential in the script to be satire, but this production’s teeth were too dull to bite.

From the minute Max (Mike Tanchuk) and Suzanna (Shanda Bezic) first appear, it is clear that he is manipulative and domineering, and that’s basically his characterization for the rest of the show. He berates Suzanna for how long she has been mourning her father, and bullies her and her mother Susan (Dawna Joy Wightman) about their financial state since the death. Max was informally adopted by the family when he was ten years old and has amassed great influence with the two women, although his feelings for Suzanna are obviously more than brotherly.

The plot then flashes forward a year later when Suzanna has married, after a very brief courtship, the artsy hipster Andrew (Micheal Eleanor). He is working an office job he hates, but he has made a friend there – the Becky Shaw of the title (Nola Martin.) The couple has invited Becky and Max over for a blind date, although Suzanna, learning that Becky is “delicate”, worries that she will be no match for the belligerent Max.

As the action progresses, Max is cruel to Becky, Becky falls apart, and Andrew devotes himself to helping her. Suzanna is subject to complicated feelings: she hates Max but she loves him, she loves Andrew but doesn’t trust him not to fall for Becky, she sympathizes with Becky but also thinks she’s too weak and dependent on Andrew. Bezic is quite adept at expressing these conflicting emotions and it was a pleasure to watch her, even if the other performances were uneven.

Martin seemed to have a good grasp on her character and suffered only from lack of direction. Wightman was compelling, if not entirely convincing in affecting a physical disability, but was rarely onstage. All too often the other actors seemed to be anticipating their next line instead of being in the moment.

The pacing was impaired by numerous extensive set changes. At the end when Susan reappears, after having been absent for the bulk of the play, the set change even involved hanging a giant painting as part of the effort to indicate the setting was now the older woman’s condo. I feel like improving the pacing on scene transitions would have led to better timing for the dialogue as well, and helped some of the funnier lines land laughs.

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Photo of Shanda Bezic by Joe Marques

One thought on “Review: Becky Shaw (Sterling Theatre Company)”

  1. This was an entertaining night of theater. A friend asked me last minute to go. I knew nothing about the Sterling Theater Company or this play. One could feel the cast’s energy and how much they cared about their craft. The effort they put forth is tremendous and was appreciated. I concur with this review regarding the pacing as it was tedious at times. I suspect the company/director have worked on the humourous aspects as I found it to have a greater level of comedy than this reviewer described. The actors who played Suzanna and Becky were extremely good in their roles and the entire cast does a commendable job. Overall, an enjoyable night; I will return for more shows from this company.

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