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Wit and morality in the plays of Gina Gionfriddo

October 23, 2010 | 10:00 am

GinaGina Gionfriddo, an avowed true-crime hobbyist and former writer on “Law & Order” and “Cold Case,” currently writing for HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” knows all about criminal activity, but her latest play, “Becky Shaw” — shortlisted for the Pulitzer in 2009 and receiving its Southern California premiere Oct. 29 — involves perhaps the harshest crime of all: wearing the wrong dress to a first date.

“I had this image of a woman set up for a date, who overdresses,” Gionfriddo says about the genesis of her play. “When something is important to you, you can betray that by something as simple as overdressing. And then the minute you walk into the room, the power balance is instantly shifted out of your favor.”

On paper, the plot of “Becky Shaw” may involve little more than the ramifications of overdressing, but Gionfriddo’s eye for furtive and deviant behavior gives this chamber piece the expansive feel of an Updike novel or an Antonioni film. “Becky Shaw” presents the foibles of only five people, but Gionfriddo’s writing suggests their quirks reflect larger moral dilemmas in today’s America.

That “Becky Shaw” flirts with these weightier themes while never feeling like an “important” or “serious” play is testament to Gionfriddo’s sharp dialogue and expert pacing. The playwright’s time on the staffs of hit television series has not coarsened her writing; instead it seems to have been enriched. Her previous full-length plays, “US Drag” and “After Ashley,” share “Becky’s” wit and fluency, but this play is tighter and more resonant.

Click here for the Arts & Books article on the playwright.

— James C. Taylor

Photo: Brian Avers and Angela Goethals in SCR's production of "Becky Shaw." Credit: Henry DiRocco/SCR.