By Diana Saenger
Steven Dietz' new play "Becky's New Car" opened in its 14th theater as it began its run Sept. 1 at North Coast Repertory Theatre. At two of the performances, Charles and Benita Staadecker joined the cast after the show for a Q & A to explain how Charles actually commissioned Dietz to write the play as a birthday gift for his wife, Benita.
Though I felt the story itself was mediocre (there were twists and turns, some I could see coming), the talented cast kept me engaged from beginning to end.
Becky Foster (Carla Harting) could be any woman in mid-life. She has a steady job at a car dealership; a needy co-worker (Mueen Jahan); and a husband Joe (Nicolas Glaeser), a roofer, who is a hard worker, demands little, and is appreciative that Becky still works outside the home. The couple is supporting their adult son Chris (Kevin Koppman-Gue), who lives in the basement while attending college as a psych major.
One night at work, millionaire Walter Flood (Mark Pinter) enters the dealership and meets Becky. He's a widower who mistakes something Becky says and believes she also lost her spouse. Somewhere between a dreamy stare at the tall, good-looking man and his suave, alluring manner, Becky decides not to correct his assumption. After all, nothing will be become of it! But once she's home and husband Joe has retired to bed, Walter phones to invite Becky to a fancy party at his seaside estate.
At this point, the play does something rarely seen in theater. In describing how strange she feels about Walter's call, Becky draws the audience into her life, pulling a front-seater on stage to place a bucket under her home's leaking roof. Moments later, when debating what she should do about Walter's invitation, she pulls several women on stage, acting like they are her girlfriends, and asking them if she should go or not. While the actions got a few laughs, to me it was jarring to the continuity and believability of the play.
The story then moves through Becky's unfaithfulness to Joe with Walter; son Chris spending more time running with his new girlfriend Kensington (Stacey Hardke) than studying, and Walter pursuing Becky in a whirlwind romance of luxury and affection – everything she believes she lacks at home.
Dietz is a prolific playwright with successes such as "Fiction," "Still Life With Iris," Inventing Van Gogh," "Private Eyes," and many more. While this plot offers nothing that we haven't seen before in many mediums; Dietz' clever dialogue and creation of characters that can only be played by an ensemble of creative and witty actors, make it relevant and entertaining.
Harting (La Jolla Playhouse's "A Midsummer's Night Dream," Off Broadway "Dead Man's Cell Phone," "Eurydice") is exceptional as Becky. Filled with some amusing moments, her honesty in revealing her feelings about her situation rings true.
Glaeser ("One Flew Over The Cuckoo Nest," "Much Ado About Nothing") instills Joe with an easy-going manner and dry humor that endears him to the audience as the innocent victim in this plot. But when a cell phone mix-up alerts him to what's happening, Mr. Nice Guy turns into Mr. Real.
Mark Pinter ("Hamlet," "Charlie's Aunt") is an immediate draw as Walter, partly because many in the audience were aware of his TV roles on "All My Children" and "Another World." Walter, ignorant of Becky's true situation, oozes with an inescapable charm that creates empathy among audience members. Becky's constant reality show-like confessions keep her a likeable character, as well.
The humorous escapades on stage keep judgments at bay, and the drama surrounding what happens to Becky's new car results in a fitting conclusion. Whether the grass is greener on the other side is open to interpretation, but "Becky's New Car" certainly endorses Benita Staadecker's idea that "Art reflects who we are."
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
"Marvelous. Absolutely marvelous! Strong cast. Good play. Very well handled."
— Bonnie Johnston
"I liked it a lot. I laughed a lot ... and I'm not a laughing kinda guy. Steven Dietz's writing was fresh, interesting ... and it went somewhere in the end."
— Damen Scranton
"Wonderful. Touching. Real. The playwright said what he had to say, which is, life happens!"
— Miriam Summ
IF YOU GO
'Becky's New Car'
- When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays; some 2 p.m. Saturdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 26
- Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
- Tickets: $30-$47; (858) 481-1055. www.northcoastrep.org