'Becky's New Car' crashes through HART's fourth wall
Comedy, philosophy appeal to audience in show with 'just plain funny' lines.
HART Theatres latest offering, "Beckys New Car," asks a question rarely addressed in theater (but all too often encountered in real life): how should we react when a good person does a bad thing?
Does the good person become a bad person? Does the bad thing become OK? Or do we just roll with clichés like nobodys perfect and get on with our lives?
Director Dorinda Toner and her cast have a great deal of fun delving into playwright Steven Dietzs script and milking it for both its comedic and philosophical richness.
The story is convoluted and implausible, rife with stereotypes and characters whose quirks and neuroses would seem way over-the-top in a more conventional production. The shows salvation is twofold: first, there are lots of just plain funny lines (so there you have it my son was loaded and the dishwasher was not). Second, the show is self-consciously theatrical, with no pretense at maintaining the fourth wall. As the audience is actively incorporated into the show at several points, we are insiders rather than spectators, engaged with the cast and relieved of the burden to suspend disbelief.
Middle aged, middle class Becky is having an Is that all there is? moment, fed up with her roles as office manager at the auto dealership and chief cook and bottle washer at home. Husband Joe is a hard-working roofer, steady and loyal but taciturn to a fault, and uncomfortable with sharing his feelings as he says, Im a roofer. I cover things up. Son Chris, a twenty-something psychology grad student, lives in the family basement and expresses himself only in pretentious psychobabble while driving his mother crazy with his slovenly habits and self-absorption.
Late one night at the dealership, in charges multimillionaire Walter Flood, a socially inept widower who suddenly sees Becky as the pathway out of his grief. A comedy of errors follows Walter thinks Becky is a widow, and relentlessly pursues her. Becky never quite gets around to correcting Walters mistake. She begins a secret double life on Walters remote island estate that cannot possibly last. When Joe, Walter, Chris, and Walters daughter Kenni discover Beckys duplicity, chaos naturally ensues.
Patti Speight is brilliant as Becky outgoing, scattered and so darned likeable that we just cant be mad about her tangled web. Shes dead wrong in her prediction that the audience will end up liking her less than husband Joe (David Roberts), although hes a pretty sympathetic character too. Roberts is definitely at his best in Act 2, when things get serious and we see a bit of the impassioned man beneath the shell. Carl Dalhquist (Chris) is annoyingly funny in Act 1, but has the most impact when he loses it like Roberts, Dahlquist sheds his composure in the second act, moving from smug observer to an emotionally engaged participant in his own life.
The other key performance is Bryan Luttrells Walter. It cant be easy to be that befuddled, clueless, and harmless while playing the role of the other man, but Luttrell pulls it off. It helps that there is so little sexual chemistry between Becky and Walter that the audience is not forced to imagine them in the throes of an affair.
The set is simple, in keeping with the surrealism of the script. Beckys office and living room share the stage with Walters terrace, and two chairs serve as Beckys car(s). Lighting, with some cues called out by the cast, directs the audiences attention to the right zone. This adds up to zero time lost to scene changes always a plus.
Director Toner has assembled a fine ensemble cast and given them the space they need to express both the comic and more serious elements of this unusual show. It is safe to say that first-time audiences cannot be prepared for everything they will see and its a show that may well merit a second visit to catch nuances missed the first time around.
Beckys New Car is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 S.E. Washington St. in Hillsboro. through April 3, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.