Park Square Theatre opens its 2009-2010 season with the Midwest premiere of Becky’s New Car, a lighthearted look at a serious matter: marital infidelity during a mid-life crisis. Countless movies, numerous novels, and many made-for-television dramas (let alone the soaps!) have addressed this theme with great success, but perhaps the success is due to us never being asked to be friends with the characters. We can observe, and have opinions, from afar.
From the beginning of this production the actors make the audience part of their lives by interacting with us (“Wanna Sprite?” “Can you staple these for me?” “Could you hang on to this extra toilet paper?”). My sister-in-law was glad she wasn’t close enough to be “chosen”; she was uncomfortable being invited into a living room that is in a parallel universe.
|becky’s new car, presented through october 4 at park square theatre, 20 w. 7th pl., st. paul. for tickets ($15-$40) and information, see parksquaretheatre.org.|
Becky (Virginia Burke) is a likable, sarcastic, and funny character facing the fact that she’s on “the fifty side of forty.” She’s working at a job that’s demanding but doesn’t provide professional satisfaction, dealing with a 26-year old son who is in no hurry to grow up and move out, and leading a fairly dull middle-class existence. Because of her inviting hospitality and witty observances that invoke our shared exasperations, Becky becomes our friend. Maybe that is why the decisions she makes are so disappointing.
Her deception begins by allowing Walter (Christopher Denton), a wealthy widower she encounters at work, to believe she is a widow herself. Both actors are superb in enacting this encounter. Becky’s frustration and disbelief that a man could be so indecisive and unable to choose gifts even with a sky’s-the-limit budget reinforces her sassy yet genuine persona. You can really see her exasperation turn into wonder at how “the other half” lives. This leads to a fairly innocent visit to his home for his daughter’s birthday party, but before we know it, the thrill of this new life, a sense of shared admiration between Becky and Walter, and a fortunate turn of professional events, leads to her spending her weekdays with the unsuspecting Walter. I would like to believe that my friends would not have made this decision, and if they had I wouldn’t find it funny. (Granted, Becky does invite audience opinion, and two of the three women chosen to lend advice voted in favor of her going to the party.) There’s never a point early in the play where there is any indication that Becky is frustrated with her husband Joe (Bob Davis), or that he’s anything other than a great guy, a passionate and caring partner, and a super dad—which makes Becky’s dissatisfaction with her marriage a little hard to understand.
I appreciated the pace of the plot as Becky’s lies begin to unravel and she moves frantically between home, work, and Walter, trying to cover her tracks and finally realizing that she can’t. The actors are all strong, particularly Burke and Davis as Becky and Joe. The characters, in general, are likable and believable. As mentioned earlier, Becky spends a large part of the show alone on the stage interacting with the audience. I particularly liked the part where she invited three audience members up on stage (even waiting while one of the women put her shoes back on!) and into her living room. The set is clever and well-designed, using lighting to highlight Becky’s transitions between home and work.
Almost all of the story is given away in the program, so from the beginning we know what is coming. Also, early in the show, while Becky is on stage talking to the audience, she explains the play’s title: when a woman wants new shoes, she really wants a new job; when she wants a new job, she really wants a new husband; when she wants a new car, she really wants a new life. That pretty much sums things up.
The problem with the plot is that it is simply a stereotypical story of marital dalliance: a spouse is unhappy with life, meets someone else, begins an affair, and the truth is revealed in a series of not-so-surprising events. Still, some great acting and some sarcastic, sassy lines make this an entertaining show. Engaging? Not so much.
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