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Becky Shaw 

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Becky Shaw has been described as a comedy of bad manners. I swore never to use the word "edgy" again, but this play cries out for it: The relationships are tangled and dysfunction abounds. Under Benjamin Clement's excellent direction, the talented cast keeps this melodrama amusing and nuanced.

  Max Garrett (Leon Contavesprie) is a caustic, hectoring financial adviser who was adopted as a child by Suzanna Slater's (Caitlin Clifford) recently deceased father. Max is trying to rescue Suzanna and her mother Susan (Mary Pauley) from looming poverty. The family business hasn't made a penny in decades and the women have ignored their peril. They also ignored their father's homosexuality, and the family members' past relationships are all complicated.

  Susan walks with a cane but proves she can go 15 rounds with the best of them when it comes to trading verbal punches. She has taken up with a lover, Susan bluntly informs her daughter, who is horrified by her mother's quick recovery from widowhood. As the lights fade on the scene, Suzanna and Max kiss and seem ready to consummate a long-simmering affection.

  Zooming ahead eight months, Suzanna is married to Andrew Porter (Joe Seibert), an aspiring writer who fell in love with her on a ski trip. Max arrives because the newlyweds have arranged a blind date for him. The woman turns out to be the eponymous Becky (Angela Papale), who is an anxious type. They go on their date and are robbed at gunpoint. Afterward, she is terribly shaken, and Max distances himself from her. Andrew begins comforting Becky, much as he comforted Suzanna after her father's death, and relationship boundaries blur.

  This psychological Gordian knot is entertaining despite its complexity, largely because of the sarcastic retorts and the verve of the performers. The cast is at the top of its game, but Contavesprie and Pauley deserve particular praise. Becky Shaw is an invigorating contemporary drama. — DALT WONK

March 23-24

Becky Shaw

8 p.m. Friday-Saturday

The Shadowbox Theatre, 2400 St. Claude Ave., 298-8676;

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