BECKY’S NEW CAR: Cruising Through Midlife Crisis
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: CAT Theatre, 419 No. Wilkinson Rd., RVA 23227
Performances: February 8-23, 2019; Acts of Faith Talkback after Sunday matinees
Ticket Prices: $23 General admission; $18 RVATA Members; $13 Students
Info: (804) 804-262-9760 or firstname.lastname@example.org
From the moment Becky Foster bustles onstage, still dressed for work, talking over the hum of her hand-held vacuum, tossing a roll of toilet tissue towards one audience member to place in the bathroom, asking another to place a waste basket under a leak, and sipping from a can of Sprite, it is obvious something in her life is out of balance. The she has a talk with her son Chris, a twenty-something graduate student who still lives at home, and the question of what he is going to do with his life turns into what she is doing with her life, and we’re off and running. Steven Dietz’s non-stop comedy, Becky’s New Car, has just enough of a tinge of reality to make us care about what happens to these characters, or at least make some moral or practical judgments about their actions.
Kerrigan Sullivan slides easily into the role of Becky (Rebecca) Foster, a middle-aged woman with a decent job as an office manager in a successful car dealership, married to a successful roofer, mother of a son who is a nice young man who, like many nice young men, seems in no hurry to rush into adulthood. Sullivan’s role requires lots of interaction with the audience, which also seems natural to Sullivan, who must segue smoothly between acting and narrating.
Scott Bergman makes Becky’s husband Joe seem like such a solid, likeable guy that it becomes difficult to relate to Becky’s dissatisfaction or to sympathize with her subsequent decisions. At one point Becky enlisted three women from the audience – including me – to help her decide if she should attend a party and pursue an extra-marital relationship. We unanimously said no, and of course she had to find three more willing sympathizers – or there would have been no reason for a second act.
Referring back to a September 2011 Va-Rep Hanover production of this show, Becky’s New Car by Steven Dietz, I confirmed that at that time I had been invited onstage to assist Melissa Johnston Price, who was playing the role of Becky, get dressed for the party. As I write this review, I recall that I helped that earlier Becky with her necklace. Interestingly, although I knew I had seen – and even reviewed – Becky’s New Car nearly 8 years ago, I did not remember details, so watching this production was like watching it for the first time.
Mark Atkinson was interesting as Becky’s paramour, the wealthy Walter Flood. Where all the other characters seemed realistic, Walter was more of a caricature of the wealthy businessman with the waterfront estate. I’m not sure if Walter’s affected speech and mannerisms were a decision of the actor or the director, Ann Davis, but he seemed to be using a different style of acting than everyone else.
The rest of the cast includes Jimmy Mello as Becky’s son, Chris; Maura Mazurowski as Walter’s daughter Kenni – who develops an interesting and convoluted relationship that could only happen in high comedy – Daryl Scruggs as Becky’s emotionally needy co-worker Steve, and Tricia Hawn as Walter’s family friend, Ginger.
Becky’s New Car is not short on laughs, but the first act seemed to drag a bit. I think we were all smart enough to get it if the pacing had been bumped up a bit. The second act seemed to find a more satisfactory stride and Becky soon crashed and burned into the entirely avoidable disaster that was clear to everyone except Becky. The look on Becky’s face when she sees Joe and Walter sharing beers in her living room is priceless. Her subsequent actions change everyone’s lives.
Lin Heath’s multi-purpose set works surprisingly well. The center and stage left comprise the Foster’s living room and doors to other rooms into and out of the house. Stage right has Becky’s office, separated from the home by a single step and lighting, rather than a physical wall.A wall at the rear of the living room served as a deck or patio on Walter’s estate, but the location or construction of the wall was oddly distracting. Even more so, Becky’s car – both the old one and the new one – are represented by office chairs. I had hoped for something more, given the title. Charlotte Scharff’s costumes are realistic, from Joe’s work shirt with his name on it to Becky’s work wardrobe and the party clothes, but what really stands out is the onstage costume change, assisted by three women selected from the audience.
There is a lot of audience involvement, which is surprisingly organic and a lot less intrusive than one might expect. One might wonder how a comedy might qualify as an Acts of Faith Theatre Festival entry, but it is the life-stage challenges and how they are handled that provides plenty of material for discussion – both among audience members, and for the Sunday matinee talkbacks.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer wh was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: Daryll Morgan Studios