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Saturday, 11 June 2011 12:58

Drive, she said: Becky's New Car

Written by Andrea Braun
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The Details

I’ll bet this has happened to you. It’s a cold morning, you’re in a hurry, and you put the key in the ignition and it almost turns over, then it dies. You repeat the process over and over with the same result until you give up and call AAA. Well, that’s Becky’s New Car. It has a number of promising starts, but it never quite gets going, despite the best efforts of its talented main cast, including Susie Wall in the title role, and John Contini, Jerry Russo, and Scott McMaster as the men in her life.

Becky Foster works as the office manager at a car dealership. She is married to good-hearted roofer Joe (Russo), a Dan Connor type (John Goodman on the sitcom “Roseanne”). Their son, Chris, is 26 and still living at home while he goes to grad school in psychology, and much of the dialogue consists of his analyzing everything and everyone to show off his grasp of jargon. He also has a newly found interest in running due to that activity apparently being important to his mysterious new girlfriend. Becky is working late at the dealership one night when the most improbable customer, Walter (Contini) enters wishing to buy gifts for his staff. His wife has died, and apparently the incident has turned him into a complete boob, albeit an enormously wealthy one. Becky is accustomed to crazed grief, as it also afflicts her co-worker Steve (Ron Haglof), and helps Walter. He leaves with the impression that Becky has also lost her spouse, plus dummy keys and nine gift boxes for the cars Becky has chosen for him. And so it begins.

Becky begins living a double life with the excuse of having been transferred to a new “megastore” three hours away. She’s really spending the weeks with Walter on his estate and weekends at home with Joe and Chris. Meanwhile, a once-wealthy friend of the late wife’s, Ginger (Tommy Nolan) is after Walter. We are also introduced to his daughter, Kenni (Lauren Meyer) who has a new boyfriend who likes running, and. . . . you see where all this is going, right? Who wouldn’t? There are elements of farce here, and even a touch of the absurd, particularly in Steve’s constant need to talk about the death of his wife, but the play doesn’t take either path to any particular effect. Contini and Russo have a funny scene where they switch cell phones and pretend to be each other, but how they ended up in Joe’s house together was unclear to me. These are just a couple of examples of the false starts mentioned above. The play settles back into tedium after every promising passage.

Steven Dietz’s script is predictable, cliché ridden, and when it tries to be clever; for example, repeatedly smashing the fourth wall by having Becky interact with the audience to the extent of giving them sodas, chores, and bringing them up on stage to help her dress for her evening with Walter, the device is merely annoying. I kept expecting to hear an unseen announcer booming, “Come on down!” But actors don’t make the decisions about their characters’ actions and movements. Those are determined by the playwright and the director, neither of whom has managed to make much out of this story. It is also disconcerting to mix professional and amateur actors (and I’m not talking about union vs. non-union here) because comparisons are inevitable and they don’t flatter anyone.

The scenic design is clever, and sets are something Insight does particularly well. Sean Savoie’s vision of a triangular highway with three telephone poles expresses Becky’s dilemma. The lights are okay, although I wasn’t fond of Becky’s habit of addressing the board operator, saying she wanted to “go to the office” (light the space) or “home” (shift the light), because the locations are just a few feet apart. There are some pale spots in the Heagney Theatre’s lighting system, but I don’t know whether that accounts for having no follow spot on Becky when she comes down into the audience. It may just be that she can’t see the stairs in that blinding light, so the cue doesn’t come until she’s safely on the floor again.

Felia Davenport’s costumes are character-defining, and Contini does look elegant in a bespoke striped suit and later in formal dress. Susie is frumpy in her polyester “real life clothes,” but she, too, looks very pretty in a little black dress. Tunes from the ‘70s and ‘80s, Baby Boomer driving music, enhance the elements of escape that underpin the story, especially since, as Becky tells us, driving along with the traffic moving smoothly listening to a favorite song is “heaven.”

Becky also offers the observation that when a woman says she wants new shoes, it means she wants a new job. A desire for a new house is code for wishing she could have a new husband (and Becky does mention that she’d like to move). Most significantly here, she says that craving a new car is really saying that she wants a new life. It is giving nothing away to say that she does get the car. I wish this group had better material because there is such a wealth of talent on the stage, but I’m sorry to say that, despite their efforts, Becky’s New Car turns out to be a lemon.

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