How refreshing to hear a play — for that's what we're really doing, however stunning the visuals — that purrs, perks and pops like Gina Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw. It's funny without punch lines, smart without speeches, emotional without mindlessness. Moreover, in director Anne Kauffman's splendid Wilma Theater production, Becky Shaw explores difficult issues of class — how money defines it, the daunting obstacles to advancement — in American society. Gionfriddo slyly references 19th-century "social-climbing women" novels in this story of a blind date rippling through four lives.
Danielle Skraastad plays Suzanna, a woman of mercurial passions, mourning her late father. He died four months ago, her adopted brother Max (Jeremy Bobb) points out, and left a financial mess; time to get over "this weepy weepy wah-wah thing" and sort out money matters with mother Susan (Janis Dardaris), Max's model for cold pragmatism. ("You're infatuated with your grief," she says, dismissing Suzanna.)
Eight months later, Suzanna has married Andrew (Armando Riesco), whom Max pegs as a rescuer: "He hears 'I want to hurt myself' like a freaking mating call." After stabilizing Suzanna by playing patient parent to her careening moods, Andrew's assisting Becky Shaw (Brooke Bloom), a seemingly mousy co-worker whom Andrew and Suzanna disastrously try to match with Max. What occurs next suggests Jane Austen with a dash of George Bernard Shaw: spirited wrangling about obligations to family, friends and strangers, with hearts, minds and lives at stake.
Kauffman and set designer Mimi Lien frame these charged exchanges in a white revolving box that not only makes scene changes instantaneous, but suggests a diorama focusing our attention. Seemingly antiseptic, the set (lit by Thom Weaver) provides a sharpness and glow that matches Gionfriddo's dialogue, heightening clashes by removing distractions.
Becky Shaw provokes strong reactions, functioning as a play should by inspiring us to see ourselves more clearly. Who we empathize with, which characters we root for and how we define their success or failure says much about us.
Through February 7, $36-$55, Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St., 215-546-7824, wilmatheater.org.