“When a woman says she wants new shoes, what she really wants is a new job. When she says she wants a new house, what she really wants is a new husband. And when she says she wants a new car, what she really wants is a new life.”
Imparting these words of wisdom is Rebecca (Becky) Foster, middle-aged wife and mother and the title character of Steven Dietz’s Becky’s New Car, Kentwood Players’ terrific 2014 opener at the Westchester Playhouse.
As you might expect, Becky (Cherry Norris) wants a new car. As to a new life, well, the one she has isn’t all that terrible. Her husband Joe (Bob Grochau) has a successful roofing business, Becky herself works for one of her town’s biggest car dealerships, and her 26-year-old son Chris (Jaymie Bellous) is a grad student in psychology.
Scratch beneath the surface, however, and things aren’t all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. After twenty-eight years of marriage, there’s little if any excitement left in Becky’s, her job is a bore, and her son is more than a bit of a moocher.
Then, late one night when Becky is still hard at work at the dealership, in walks gazillionaire widower Walter Flood (Dylan Brody) in a bit of a bind. There’s an employee breakfast the next morning and since his beloved Sheila is no longer alive (and therefore unavailable to suggest the perfect gift idea), Walter has made the spur-of-the-moment decision to buy each of his top nine workers a car, and the nicer the vehicle the better.
Once Becky has gotten over the shock of Walter’s request, she suggests the highest-end model as the ideal choice, mentioning in passing, “My husband always wanted one of these.” Perhaps she means that he used to want one, but ended up settling for a cheaper model. Perhaps the past tense is simply a slip of the tongue. In any case, Walter latches on to the –ed in “wanted,” and assumes that Becky too is in mourning for an adored spouse.
Becky (for reasons known only to her) doesn’t correct Walter’s mistaken impression. Before long, she has accepted his invitation to drive up to a dinner party at his palatial mansion, and the next thing you know, our heroine is leading a new—and double—life.
Along the way we meet Becky’s widowed sad-sack of a work colleague Steve (Craig Bruenell), Walter’s pretty, pampered daughter Kenni (Jacqueline Borowski), and Ginger (Maria Pavone), a down-on-her-luck middle-aged ex-debutante who’s had her sights set on Walter for years.
Dietz’s funny, original play has had considerble success on the regional theater circuit since its 2008 World Premiere at Seattle’s ACT, the playwright having been commissioned to write it by local arts supporter Charles Staadecker as a gift to his wife Benita, and ultimately to the theater community as a whole. Having met the Staadeckers at Becky’s Los Angeles premiere a few years ago, I’m delighted to report that Benita’s play is alive and well, directed with considerable flair for Kentwood Players by Susan Stangl, and performed by a topnotch cast, most of whom are making their Westchester Playhouse debuts.
Foremost among them is the luminous Norris, who is not only an expert comedienne, she gets us liking Becky from the moment we meet her, and keeps us liking her even as she slides down the slippery slope towards adultery. Like those classic TV sitcom moms on The Brady Bunch and Home Improvement, Norris convinces us from the get-go that Becky hasn’t got a mean bone in her body, so even as we watch her two-time the poor, clueless Joe, we find ourselves rooting for her no matter what. (That Norris’s Becky is also quite a looker is icing on the cake.)
It helps that Dietz’s script has Becky not only breaking the fourth wall, but doing so in a way that turns the audience into characters in the play (and Becky’s accomplices) from the get-go. Needing help with her housekeeping, Becky hands an audience member in the front row a roll of toilet paper and asks him to leave it in the bathroom. Swamped with take-home work from the office, she gets another audience member to do some stapling for her. Later, she brings up a few ladies to give her advice and help her change clothes in preparation for Walter’s dinner party.
If Norris is the ideal sitcom wife and mother, then Grochau’s Tim Taylor-meets-Mike Brady Joe makes for a just-right sitcom hubby/dad, against which Brody’s Walter (think Steve Martin crossed with Walter Matthau) stands in tantalizing contrast. (No wonder Becky can’t make up her mind.)
Bellous garners multiple laughs from Chris’s hilariously pretentious psychobabble, Borowski plays Kenni with a charming blend of loveliness and spunk, Bruenell gives Steve a delightfully deadpan quality that makes his woes all the droller, and Pavone has just the right dry sophistication to nail the role of Ginger.
Scenic designer Drew Fitzsimmons gets top marks for a set that manages to fit Becky’s living room, her office at the car dealership, and a balcony overlooking the water over on the other side of town—all on the same stage, with added snaps for turning a bench and pair of speakers into Becky’s car. Lewis Stout’s lighting design, Sheridan Cole’s costumes, and Stangl’s sound design are first-rate contributions as well.
Becky’s New Car is produced by Larry Jones. Barry Nackos and Jerilyn Kacena are stage managers.
Kudos to Kentwood Players for taking chances with a lesser-known play than the tried-and-true revivals that make up a typical community theater season. Becky’s New Car may not have the name value of a Neil Simon classic, but it should, and I’m guessing that Westchester Playhouse audiences will concur.
Kentwood Players, Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., Westchester.
January 11, 2014
Photos: Shari Barrett