Family, Meet Train Wreck

Becky Shaw is like a two-hour greatest hits album ... for a soap opera. Have a favorite cliché of the genre? You'll probably find it somewhere in Gina Gionfriddo's careening script. There's a well-to-do family that, upon the death of its patriarch, discovers it has no savings left, and that dear old dad might have been bisexual. There's an orphan — well, a half-orphan — who ignites an incestuous — well, quasi-incestuous — relationship with his adopted sister. There's a crippling disease, a suicide attempt, some blackmail and mutilation, even a holdup, all while the cleavage is bared (even — or especially — at work), the mascara runs, and the "fuck you, mom!"s fly. Gionfriddo does not shy away from her characters' more repellent qualities. Max (Brian Robert Burns) asks women if they're on their periods when they're grumpy, describes listening to others as "pretty fucking womanly," and dumps all his girlfriends after three months in the vain hope that Suzanna (Liz Sklar), his sort-of sister, will reciprocate. And she's almost as bad, a privileged white girl with daddy issues, class issues, and a total inability to make decisions. Often, she curses her mother, Susan (the venerable Lorri Holt), a Virginia dowager with a venomous leer and a tongue to match. But it's not just the usual suspects who make your skin prickle. In Gionfriddo's rendering, even the more pitiable types vex. If all this sounds unpleasant, at least the effective comic performances, directed by Amy Glazer, give us tacit permission to indulge our schadenfreude. And when these characters lack three full dimensions — that is to say, some positive qualities — there is Miyuki Bierlien's rich and precise costume design to help fill in the gaps.
Tuesdays-Saturdays. Starts: Jan. 24. Continues through March 10, 2012

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