Becky Shaw

COFFEE CLUTCH Barnes takes hold of Parisse in a strange encounter.

COFFEE CLUTCH Barnes takes hold of Parisse in a strange encounter.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Suzanna (Emily Bergl) and Andrew (Thomas Sadoski) mean well when they set up a blind date between Max (David Wilson Barnes) and Becky (Annie Parisse). Unfortunately for everyone, however, love in Becky Shaw is anything but blind: It watches like a hawk, ever alert to signs of weakness and chances to fly away. Gina Gionfriddo’s lacerating comedy is similarly sharp-eyed. Although it presses many social buttons in passing, the play is primarily concerned with the personal intersections of honesty and responsibility, and Gionfriddo is remarkably good at picking out details from amid a wide view.

As the testy, candidly nasty Max, the excellent Barnes—who suggests a gene splice of early Kevin Spacey and late Steve Martin—gets the bulk of Gionfriddo’s acid-tipped one-liners, and there are many of them. (This may be the funniest play of the season.) The perfectly cast Parisse is equally impressive as Becky, a wounded bird whose beak is unexpectedly sharp. Both actors originated their roles at the Humana Festival last year. At Second Stage, under Peter DuBois’s astute direction, the rest of the cast is new and strong: Bergl as the believably messed-up Suzanna, Max’s adoptive sister and quasi-incestuous love; Sadoski as her drippy husband, whose more-feminist-than-thou sensitivity may be just a way to get off on the suffering of women; and Kelly Bishop as her basilisk mother. These complicated characters often behave poorly, but Gionfriddo doesn’t lapse into misanthropic disdain. It’s as though she were daring you to love them with eyes wide open. Whether or not you do, they’re a sight to see.

Second Stage Theatre. By Gina Gionfriddo. Dir. Peter DuBois. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.