Friday, February 10, 2012

Becky Shaw, at SF Playhouse

(Most of the ensemble.  Photo by Jessica Palopoli.)

I knew seeing this show would be an interesting experience from the moment I walked into the theater.  There, filling most of the theater's seats, was a high school class, dressed in their Sunday best, on a field trip.

If my high school did field trips to live performances, they were abridged versions meant to accommodate school day constraints.  So I very much appreciated that this school was trying to give its students a full artistic experience.

I also appreciated being able to watch a show with a group who didn't adhere to traditional audience decorum: silence.  At the very mention of a word like "lover," this audience would hoot and holler in a way that suggested what theater audiences were surely like hundreds (and thousands) of years ago.  It was like two shows were going on at once:  Audience response was a complementary second stage to the performance of Becky Shaw.  The theater critic in front of me was laughing at the students just as much as she was at the production.

Also interesting was seeing the delivery of racist lines to a very racially mixed audience.  At these moments, the group abruptly fell silent.  I felt like the playwright was getting a long, hard stare—It's among the tensest I've ever felt in the theater.

For this reason, Becky Shaw did not seem an obvious theatrical choice for this group.  The cast is entirely white, and I would imagine that the privileged-white-girl concerns it spends most of its time articulating do not speak to the experiences of those students.  (Though how would I know?)  If one of the goals of these field trips is audience development, it might not hurt to show students (some of whom surely don't see plays regularly) that the world of the stage needn't be very different from their own.

Becky Shaw continues through March 10; info here.

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