Be Nice to Strangers
In Becky Shaw, Gina Gionfriddo offers a profanely comic take on the quirky contingencies of love. Her challenging play is stuffed with implicit questions. How do we end up waking to that particular someone special on the other side of our bed? Who are they? How did they get there? Is this love, or some complicit settling, or simply bald complementary exploitation? It’s scary out there. Especially when your Dad is newly dead, your middle-aged mother is shacking up with an untalented boy toy con artist, and your adopted brother (who clearly has a thing for you) jealously works at sabotaging the Vegas spun marriage you slapped together with your weekend skiing buddy. This is the hand dealt to Suzanna. We don’t plan to have lives like this, yet strangely here we are. Contingency par excellence. How mortal? What a joke we are to the cosmos?
Turn our view to any of the other characters of this story and we find similar lives of bewildering randomness. So when the title character, Becky Shaw debuts, looking like a “birthday cake”, she is an odd blend of a stranger and a fellow peer of neurotic vulnerability. Gionfriddo alludes to a Greek myth about the importance of offering hospitality to strangers that inexplicable arrive at our door. She likely is referencing the Myth of Baucis and Philemon. In this myth the ancient Greek couple, Baucis and Philemon unexpectedly receive a knock at their door and find two weary strangers requesting lodging. Without hesitation the poor elderly couple welcome the strangers into their home and prepare a lavish meal. Shortly thereafter, the strangers reveal that they are Olympic gods disguised as mortals who have been roaming in search of human compassion. After nearly abandoning their quest in desperate failure, they marvel at the selfless generosity of Baucis and Philemon. They consequently reward the couple for their hospitality, and then stir up a great flood to smite all the other inhabitants of the town (who had ungraciously closed their doors to the strangers). The myth is a lesson in human compassion. For their generous hospitality, Baucis and Philemon are divinely granted lengthened lives, permitting them time to discover an uncommon depth of love between them – an extraordinary co-passion. As they eventually die together, they become two trees, a Linden and an Oak, sharing a single trunk.
Enter Becky Shaw, the fabled stranger, and a cosmic test unfolds. Will Suzanna and Andrew be pulled apart or will they find truths that grant divine rewards? Will Max see the light his blind date may paradoxically bestow, or should he invest in a life raft? As sidekick soothsayer, Susan (Suzanna’s clay footed mother) counsels on the importance of “pockets of mystery” in marriage: We should not, in our insatiable need for closeness, demand complete knowledge of our partners. Complete knowing of anyone, even ourselves, is impossible, perhaps undesirable. Success in love requires an acceptance of zany contingency. In this we find freedom, a liking for “pockets of privacy”. It is this unnamed terrain in us all that provides the space for the perpetual co-growth, co-discovery, co-passion of romance.
The opinions expressed by the writer are not necessarily those of 2nd Story Theatre.