Review: “Becky’s New Car”

The opening night of Becky’s New Car at the Indiana Repertory Theatre was a success Friday night; what an honor to witness such refreshing Indianapolis theatre. My theatre partner, Mike, and I made our way to Indianapolis downtown to catch the 7:30 curtain of this new play by Steven Dietz. I mentioned the story behind Dietz’s authorship of the script in a Preview of Becky’s New Car. For those who missed it, here is the abbreviated version. ACT Theatre in Seattle offered its patrons the chance to commission a play as a gift for a loved, in the great tradition of classical composition. The money to develop and produce Becky’s New Car was given to ACT Theatre by Charles Staadecker as a gift for his wife Benita. The benefactors were in the audience Friday evening at the IRT, as part of their ten city tour to see regional premieres of Benita’s birthday play.

This Spring in Indianapolis culture, a mini Steven Dietz festival is brought to the Circle City through a collaboration between the IRT and the Phoenix Theatre near Mass Ave. The Phoenix plans to open another Dietz play in early April, and if Becky’s New Car is any indication of the caliber of work that Dietz’s writing inspires in Indianapolis artists, you will not want to miss it. An award winning playwright, Steven Dietz has become one of the most produced living playwrights currently writing for American theatre. His thirty plus plays have been seen at more than 100 regional theatres across the United States. His writing has been translated into eight different languages for performance in more than sixteen different countries. His work touches on humanity in a strange, but honest way, making his writing extremely enjoyable and theatrical.

Becky’s New Car shares the story of a woman who, like so many other humans, is stuck in a rut. She longs for a new car, a symbol made clear (early on in the play) for a new life. After years of working late hours as a clerk at a car dealership, with a 26 year old son who still lives at home and an aloof husband who works as a roofer, Becky truly feels the cruelty of time. But her spunky nature keeps her moving forward, despite her unhappy life situation. When millionaire Walter Flood waltzes into her life one late evening at the dealership to purchase gifts for his employees, he mistakes her for a widow. As a widower himself, he forges an instant connection with Becky. Her problem, she fails to tell him the truth from the onset, and throughout the play. As her sneaky charade grows more and more complex, the awful truth of her new life situation inevitably comes out.

Becky’s New Car is a play that hinges on Becky’s relationship to the audience. With a heroine whose decision making skills become increasingly questionable, it is important that the audience feel inclined to follow Becky through her journey. Dietz helps to forge this relationship with audience participation and plenty of direct address, written right into the script. In a surreptitious move by the IRT’s creative team, they create many more moments of audience interaction for Becky in a variety of ways. From the moment the house lights fade, a simple (and wonderful) decision on the part of sound designer, Todd Mack Reichman, to play “Que Sera, Sera” grabs hold of the audience. Unexpectedly, our voices swooned in unison to the chorus of this notable tune, immediately engaging us with the play and informing our subconscious about our heroine’s major conflict: her life is not what she hoped it would turn out to be. Moments like this are peppered throughout the show by both Dietz and director James Still, but to share them would be to ruin the play’s authenticity. Just know, anything can happen in the IRT’s production of Becky’s New Car.

In addition to forging a strong relationship between Becky and the audience, the success of Becky’s New Car demands that the entire creative team and acting ensemble be on the same page. Directed by James Still (playwright: The Heavens Are Hung in Black), Becky’s New Car contains a wonderful team of actors and designers. The most difficult part of Still’s job, I imagine, was to assemble his creative team and cast. Once he had a wonderful working ensemble, he could rely on his understanding of Dietz’s dramatic structure to guide him and his team through the process. When Still directs, he has the rare ability to see through the playwrights eyes (probably because he himself is a playwright). In his notes Still shares, “I was also struck by its [the play’s] use of a unique dramatic structure to tell a good story without a bit of self-consciousness. This play requires all of us—director, designers and actors, as well as the audience—to embrace a kind of theatrical verve at its heart.” His clear understanding of the play allows him to let it be what it wants to, rather than forcing some kind of concept onto it.

The farcical action that the script ultimately spirals into is not only reinforced, but enhanced by scenic and lighting designs from Kate Sutton-Johnson and Michael Lincoln, respectively. Sutton-Johnson’s set, complete with carpet steps and a bean bag chair, creates a believable living space that shares a lot of immediate information about the characters. At the same time, she created many different locations with a lot of creativity to serve Dietz’s wish that “the play will move without transition between four primary locations. . . Simply.” Lincoln’s lights help to carve Sutton-Johnson’s playing areas, but also add attitude with a few surprises along the way. Lincoln created broad caricature-ish sketches of locations with his lights, which fit perfectly into the artistic folds of this comedy.

As Becky, Constance Macy was simply charming. She brings herself to the role, at the same time creating a unique woman. As an adjunct professor at Butler University and one of the founders of Shadow Ape Theatre company, Constance is constantly involved in Indianapolis performing arts. Her work in the IRT’s latest offering reveals her as both quirky and approachable, important tactics to get the audience on her side despite her character’s many bad decisions. Though I’m not sure how she does it, even when we disagree with Becky’s choices, Macy has us following her as boldly as Becky follows the path to her new life. Her naturalness on stage serves her well as she interacts directly with the audience, receiving different curve balls each night, I’m sure.

Becky’s two love interests the millionaire Walter Flood (Nicholas Hormann) and her husband Joe Foster (Robert Neal of Romeo and Juliet) offer diametrically opposed interpretations of romance. Where Walter Flood is swept up in new infatuation, Foster cares for a relationship of more than two decades. Each actor brings his own zest to his part. Both are lovable as the men they are. Hormann’s daft yet sensitive millionaire marching to the beat of a different drum makes for plenty of giggles. Neal’s devoted, yet aloof, husband offers a universal sense of long time lulling romantic relationships. Both men are basically good; victims of Becky’s misguided decisions.

Becky’s decisions seem to affect each character in the play in varied ways. Adriano Gato’s portrayal of Becky’s son, Chris, was perhaps the weakest on stage, but relatively that is still pretty darn good. Though he was overly enthusiastic and a bit indicated at times, his caricature-ish interpretation of her son fits into the world of the play. The strongest supporting character work in Becky’s New Car came from Indianapolis local Michael Shelton, in the role of Becky’s coworker Steve. Shelton’s interpretation of the nervous and broken Steve brought being a widower to new heights of hilarity, definitely not an easy feat. Shelton not only created his own moments, but heightened tensions for the entire cast.

Becky’s New Car, playing at the IRT now through April 11, 2010, is a show that takes you on an incredibly fun journey. As the adventure heats up, the audience becomes a sea of smiles and laughter. I walked out of the theatre feeling refreshed, wanting to sing-a-long to songs on the car radio. Catch this fun piece of Indianapolis theatre at the IRT while you still can! Make your outing in Indy complete. Grab dinner and drinks at any of these great Indianapolis restaurants or Indianapolis bars. Stay tuned to Indianapolis News, Event and Information on Fun City for all the latest on fun things to do in Indianapolis.

Becky’s New Car
Now through April 11, 2010

Indiana Repertory Theatre
140 W Washington St
Indianapolis, IN 46204

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