Review: Becky Shaw showcases excellent acting

From left: Melissa O’Neil, Jason Stevens, Zach Poster and Chelsea Hupalowsky star in M&D Playhouse’s production of Gina Gionfriddo’s “Becky Shaw,” which opened Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse in North Conway. (LISA DUFAULT PHOTO)

By Alec Kerr
Conway Daily Sun

CONWAY — M&D Playhouse kicks off its 2023 season with Gina Gionfriddo’s “Becky Shaw,” a dramedy about damaged people, which opened Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse with performances Thursday through Sunday through Jan. 29.

The play opens by introducing us to Suzanna (Melissa O’Neil) and Max (Jason Stevens). They grew up together because Suzanna’s parents unofficially adopted Max, but their level of intimacy feels more than mere brother and sister. 

Max and Suzanna are confronting their mother (Paula Jones) about her finances following the recent passing of her husband. It has been four months, and Suzanna is still grieving, but Max callously tells her to get over it. 

The next scene jumps ahead several months. Suzanna is now married to Andrew (Zach Poster), who she met on a ski trip and wed quickly because he helped “heal” her. The newlyweds are setting Max up with Andrew’s co-worker Becky (Chelsea Hupalowsky). 

Jason Stevens and Chelsea Hupalowsky in M&D Playhouse’s production of “Becky Shaw,” which opened Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse in North Conway. (LISA DUFAULT PHOTO)

When the date takes a traumatic turn, Becky becomes desperate to reconnect with Max. When Max refuses to do so, Becky begins leaning on Andrew for emotional support, which puts a strain on his still fresh marriage. 

Director Eric Jordan has cast the show exceptionally well. His cast are giving performances that feel completely natural. These are actors who are present in the moment. 

The play is at its strongest in the first act where there are moments when it feels like you’re watching real life unfold. The second act has dialogue that feels more obviously written which pulled me out of the moment, but the strength of the performances carries the material. 

To put it simply, Max is a colossal a-hole. He’s blunt, cold, lacks empathy and is a condescending know-it-all. Stevens plays him to perfection and creates a deeply unlikable character. 

O’Neil is equally strong. She has a caustic rage inside of her, especially toward her mother, that she’s trying to control. She wants to be a better person. She is almost completely dependent on Max to fix her problems, and it is clear that their dynamic is not remotely healthy. 

Stevens and O’Neil’s scenes together rarely ring false. They are able to convey years of history in the way they look at each and in their body language. Poster and O’Neil don’t share the same connection, but that’s the point. 

It isn’t that Poster and O’Neil don’t have chemistry together, but their dynamic is new and there’s uncertainty in their interactions as they are still feeling each other out. This dynamic also feels believable. Poster does a nice job creating an amicable persona that is the exact opposite of Stevens’ Max. 

The eponymous Becky Shaw doesn’t arrive until about 45 minutes into the show and she has less stage time than the other characters, so why is the play named after her? 

Becky acts as a catalyst for Suzanna, Max and Andrew to look inward and see that they are stuck in unhealthy patterns. Andrew has a history of falling for women that are broken and trying to fix them. He’s repeating that with Becky. 

As Becky is more a device of the plot, her character isn’t as fully defined. While Becky has monologues that offer insight into her behavior, the writing feels less organic. As such, she’s the least interesting of the characters, which is an unfortunate hurdle for Hupalowsky. 

Hupalowsky does what she can with the character. Her best moments are when she is first introduced. The awkwardness of meeting new people feels real. Hupalowsky gives Becky a quick wit and ability to hold her own with Max. 

The set is on three rotating panels that switch from the various hotels Max is staying in and the other character’s homes. These scene changes are lengthy and badly throw off the pace of the production in the second act where there are several short scenes that bounce between locations.  

From left: Zach Poster, Melissa O’Neil, Chelsea Hupalowsky, Paula Jones and Jason Stevens in M&D Playhouse’s production of “Becky Shaw,” which opened Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse in North Conway. (LISA DUFAULT PHOTO)

“Becky Shaw” isn’t always pleasant but, as an acting showcase, it is worth seeing. 

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