Friday, October 24, 2008

Becky's New Car - ACT

October 23 - November 16 2008
Tickets and Information
206 - 292 7676

After a week of previews, Steven Dietz’s Becky’s New Car, a world premiere at ACT and commissioned as a birthday present for a patron’s wife, finally opened to a full house and a well-deserved standing ovation. It also kicked off ACT’s New Works for the American Stage Program. Several more productions are in the works for this new program, giving faithful Seattle theater-goers fresh plays to look forward to in subsequent years.

Becky’s New Car is a comedy, and like all successful comedies it is based in usually painful truth told with often brutal honesty. Becky (Kimberley King), an accountant for a local car dealership, is the typical suburban working mother. She has a reliable husband, Joe (Charles Leggett); a freeloading student son, Chris (Benjamin Harris); and a co-worker friend, Steve (R. Hamilton Wright), who uses Becky as his makeshift grief counselor. All is going predictably ‘okay’, until Walter Flood (Michael Winters), an eccentric billionaire and widower, stumbles into the deserted dealership one night as Becky is working late. Walter’s one misconception and Becky’s missed chance to correct him lead her down an alternate path, into a life very different from the one she is used to- one with the new car smell! Of course, life in comedy is never that easy; the addition of Walter’s daughter Kenni (Anna-Lisa Carlson) and old friend Ginger (Suzanne Bouchard), on top of Becky’s mounting list of cover-ups, ends up in a hilarious disaster.

Photo by Chris Bennion

The foundation of a successful production is always the script; the more rich and colorful the text, the farther the collaborating artists can take the piece. Steven Dietz paints a fearlessly honest portrait of a world where tact is thrown to the wayside and thoughts spew forth like an exploding Sprite can. Dietz’s characters are so carefully constructed that you hardly notice that they are creations at all, until one of them shatters the fourth wall with a polite offer of a soda or a request to collate copies in a file (yes, really!). King herself tells her story directly to the audience, easily shuttling between living room and office with a word to the light booth and a saunter across the stage. The play’s meta-theatrical style draws the audience in, quite literally, to the life of the characters and enhances all of the hilarity that ensues. What is remarkable is that we feel sympathy equally for all parties; every character is a good person with noticeable flaws. This is due both to Dietz’s witty dialogue and the actors’ superb talents.

Director Kurt Beattie (also ACT’s Artistic Director) has done an admirable job choreographing such a madcap comedy, as well as drawing out the best of each performer. In particular, King’s every reaction was completely uninhibited, heightened enough for comedy while still natural enough that we identified with each one. Leggett’s Joe was quietly phenomenal; as each scene unfolds Leggett reveals another layer of character, until we simultaneously admire and pity him. R. Hamilton Wright’s Steve is a tightly wound packet of neurosis and vulnerability; he is constantly reaching out for human contact, but too socially awkward to ever achieve it. It cannot be stated enough that there was not a weak link in this chain of a cast.

As is (almost) always the case at ACT, the technical side of the production is seamlessly integrated with the rest of the show. William Bloodgood’s set is composed of painted car silhouettes, garishly lit car advertisements that flew in and out to represent the dealership, and several smaller pieces that swooped on and offstage, each particular to their respective space but general enough to let the acting carry the scene. Rick Paulsen’s lighting design perfectly complemented the meta-theatrical style of storytelling, at once highlighting individual spaces and evoking a variety of environments, whether the harsh light of an office or the graceful wash of a billionaire’s balcony.

Becky’s New Car is that perfect blend of hilarious comedy and substantial weight, a story about choices and consequences that could believably happen to anyone. And just a tip for those of you who enjoy a cold one with your entertainment: sit in the front row!

Review by Lia Morgan and Gwynn Garland

No comments: