A Farce That Flails

While 'Becky's New Car' offers ample laughs, the playwright often overshadows his characters

The star of Steven Dietz's play, Becky's New Car, is Steven Dietz.

The show is being produced by Sacred Chicken Productions, utilizing the facilities of the Beowulf Alley Theatre. In general, we are treated to a group of satisfactorily skilled theater folks investing their earnest efforts in this—ahem—vehicle, which is often quite funny.

But what we see mostly is Dietz, not serving up his story, but upstaging it. This is not a good thing.

In spite of this, the production is entertaining, and many aspects of the piece that Dietz has dreamed up come to energetic life thanks to a committed cast under the direction of Rhonda Hallquist.

Dietz's play was commissioned by a wealthy businessman as a gift to his wife. Frankly, it has the feeling of being an inside joke. Although it's an honest effort to tell a humorous tale, it also seems like a caravan of sometimes-clever, sometimes-clumsy playmaking tricks. In spite of creating an interesting way to tell a story, Dietz's shenanigans often undercut or overwhelm his tale.

Becky (Carrie Hill) is the island around which the traffic circle turns. She's a whirlwind of motherhood, wife, housekeeper and overworked bookkeeper at a car dealership. There's nothing discernibly wrong with her life. She frets about her 24-year-old son who still lives at home. Her husband, Joe (Gabriel Nagy), is a regular, well, Joe, a roofer whose own roof leaks and who wishes his wife would be a bit more attentive. Becky's co-worker is unable to do much besides talk about his dead wife and sell cars.

Becky muses about a friend telling her that at a certain age, a woman becomes invisible—which, Becky learns, may not be as bad as it seems. She has also been told by a late colleague's wife that when a woman says she wants new shoes, what she really wants is a new job. When a woman says she wants a new house, she wants a new husband. And if a woman wants a new car, she actually wants a new life.

Becky wants a new car.

One day, long after the shop has officially closed, a man walks into the dealership and laments that he needs to get gifts for his employees, and that he's just no good at selecting gifts—his late wife used to do that kind of thing. Perhaps, he wonders, he could purchase a few cars as gifts, since most people seem to like cars.

Becky is overwhelmed with his request, but understands that you don't turn down an offer like this, and agrees to assist. Something about this encounter causes a shift in Becky. As they are talking, the man, Walter Flood (Jeff Scotland), of local billboard-empire fame, makes an assumption that Becky is a widow, and she doesn't correct him. She is genuinely perplexed by her behavior, but she soon finds herself living a double-life, assisted by her seemingly unsuspecting husband. She is both the old Becky and the new Rebecca, mistress of the wealthy Flood.

The play is a farce, a tried-and-true model of theater, which involves mistaken identities, miscommunications, duplicity, lies, surprising character connections and comeuppance. This is a pretty-well-conceived and executed farce, actually. Dietz does more than flirt with the idea that the piece should have substance—but the substance he actualizes is about "as deep as a cookie sheet," to use his words regarding a character. At times, it seems he doesn't trust either his story or his storytelling.

Dietz challenges an actress by creating in Becky a complex character, both grounded and opportunistic. Hill gives Becky a good ride, though she perhaps tries a bit too hard to cement the audience's interest at first. Dietz has her address the audience directly throughout, a common-enough convention, and one that serves this story. Then, however, he has her enlist audience members to perform actual tasks—moments which feel cheesy. Hill embraces it gamely, although you get the feeling she might be thinking it's a little cheesy, too. However, Hill gives a solid performance, and we do sympathize with her questionable choices as the story unfolds.

Dietz knows what he wants from his supporting characters. He has fun with Joe, and Nagy gives us a gentle guy who can also be a little intimidating (and who might know more than you think). Aaron Guisinger is the psychology-major son, and Steve McKee is Becky's incessantly distraught co-worker. Lucille Petty is fine in a small role as Walter's daughter, and Amy Erbe is quite delightful in a tiny turn as the once-wealthy but now-penniless Ginger, the would-be digger for Flood's gold who happily settles for becoming a bartender.

However, there seems to be no chemistry between Flood and Becky/Rebecca. The playing out of their relationship most definitely presents a challenge, since it's not really the destination of Becky's new life. Still, there needs to be some sort of believable connection between them, and I didn't feel it.

There are some genuine laughs in the play, but there are also potholes. Although this group gives us an entertaining trip, too often, we are aware that it is the playwright pressing on the accelerator rather than his characters.

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