Theatre Review: “Becky’s New Car” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre

I saw “Becky’s New Car” when it opened here in Indianapolis at the Indiana Repertory Theatre on Friday, March 26, 2010.  It was written by Steven Dietz and directed by James Still.

Dear Reader, I LOVED IT. 

My friend did, too.  We stayed “high” on it all the rest of the weekend.  And I have been saying “Becky’s New Car!” without equivocation whenever anyone asks me “what’s good?” rather than first asking my usual cautious theatre advisory questions about what kind of show they are in the mood for and so on.

“Becky’s New Car” is so funny and well done, and I think it appeals to a wide variety of people.  If you like to talk about shows and/or relationships, for example, this piece offers a lot to talk about at intermission and afterwards:  there is good stuff about love, grief, infidelity, inevitability and more to chew on, plus it is a pleasure to re-hash the show’s interactivity and other fun design elements.  However, you can also just enjoy the show, too, without having to talk about it.  It moves fast and there are all kinds of situations in the show that both men and women can relate to easily. 

Best of the all, the tension in the serious moments is deftly released – but not diluted – by smart humor that doesn’t make you feel guilty for laughing at/with these very human and likable people.

I didn’t want it to end.  I went back to see “Becky’s New Car” again the following weekend by myself and loved it just as much the second time.  There is only one weekend left, starting tonight (Wednesday); I may try to squeeze in a third visit before the show closes.

The Story

Becky Foster (Constance Macy) is a suburban housewife who works long hours in the office of a car dealership.  Her husband, Joe (Robert Neal), has his own roofing company and “a great, big, Soviet-style heart” (Becky’s expression) although he hates Talking About Their Relationship.  Their 26-year-old son, Chris (Adriano Gatto), still lives with them and is working on his graduate degree in psychology.  Becky and Joe wonder if Chris will ever move out.

Becky is not unhappy, exactly, but she yearns for a new car.  “And you know what so-and-so says,” she tells the audience directly as she engages our help in tidying up her family room so that we can make ourselves at home there with her, “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.”

But Becky can’t think of what, exactly, her new life would look like.  She can’t think how to make a change.

In the meantime, one night when Becky is working late at the car dealership after everyone else has gone home, a man comes in and asks to buy “some cars” to give as gifts at an employee breakfast the next morning.  He turns out to be billboard millionaire Walter Flood (Nicholas Hormann.)  He is a widower.   His wife, Sheila, used to help him pick out gifts.  Her help with gifts is one of the many, many things he misses about her. 

Through a plausible misunderstanding, Walter thinks that Rebecca (he reads her name off her business card) has been widowed, too.  A little while later, he calls her cell phone and asks her to come to his mansion for a dinner party.

One thing leads to another…but the “leading” happens innocently and accidentally up to a certain point, and harmlessly up to a certain point beyond that, and inevitably but never predictably all the way to the end.  I felt sympathy and affection the whole time for everyone involved. 

A Few Discussables* from the Story

All of these points along the path of the story are part of what is interesting to discuss during intermission and later. 

At one point, for example, Becky asks Joe something like, “If I met someone, would you want to know about it, even if it was just an infatuation that was going to burn itself out in a couple weeks and not mean anything at all?”

How about you?  Would you want to know? 

And what is the definition of cheating, exactly?  Is “no contact no foul” really a good yardstick for whether an interaction is significant?

And is it true that “once a cheater, always a cheater,” or for some people is one affair truly “never again”? 

And can one affair ever (paradoxically) make the original relationship stronger even though it also harms it irreparably?

There are other things to talk about, too, but I bet you will think of them on your own when you see the show.  If nothing else, what do you think will happen to all of these characters in the future?

AND, as I say, you don’t have to talk about any of this stuff if you don’t want to.  You can also just enjoy the fact that the show refreshes you by making you laugh.

A Few Relishables* from the Acting

Another thing I loved about the show was the geometry of it – the points and lines and triangles and other shapes within the story’s structure. 

Becky, Joe, and Walter are the main triangle, of course.  The actors that play them are all wonderfully genuine.  The two men are different from each other but NOT opposites.  Every adjective that occurs to me to describe one – sweet, smart, kind, down-to-earth, generous, thoughtful, funny, sexy – also describes the other but in a slightly different way.  Nicholas Hormann gives Walter a bumbling-yet-debonair, “silver fox” quality while Robert Neal gives Joe a tummy-scratching, hot-construction-worker earthiness.  They are both worthy of my swoons and Becky’s affection.

Constance Macy is brilliant as Becky.  Simply brilliant.  Becky says early on in her explanation of what happened that she is afraid we won’t like her as much as we like Joe.  But we do, or I did, anyway, because at EVERY point in the story she is trying her best to do the right thing.  Just as we all are.

Another, much more lopsided triangle is that of Becky, Walter, and a now penniless, but still glamorous, heiress.  Cindy Phillips is exquisitely refined and hilarious as gold-digger Ginger.

We never meet Walter’s deceased wife, Sheila, of course, but we catch a glimpse of her authentic grace, poise, and kindness through Lisa Ermel’s nuanced portrayal of their fashion-magazine-beautiful daughter, Kenni Flood.   

Adriano Gatto gives Becky and Joe’s son, Chris Foster, an intense, cerebral, geekiness that is just like someone I know in real life. (Hmm…I wonder what that friend’s new wife would think if I invited him to go see this show with me…)

Michael Shelton as Steve, Becky’s tightly-wound co-worker at the car dealership, lets us see how someone can be an award-winning salesperson and yet still be laughably lacking in social skills.

Everyone in the cast has exquisite comic timing.  The supporting characters as well as the main characters grow in important ways.  Playwright Steven Dietz and director James Still have everyone moving quickly and lightly but with heart, if that makes sense.

A Few Relishables* from the Design Team

The “through-lines” and connections in the direction and design elements felt satisfyingly geometrical to me, too. 

There is no fourth wall.  Becky interacts with the audience quite frequently, even pulling people up on stage and from back stage with her when she needs help with something.  This is all done very smoothly and effectively – the best I’ve ever seen.

Kate Sutton-Johnson’s scenic design is delightfully nimble, too. Most of the set stays put, while a few relatively small moving pieces and the lights (designed by Michael Lincoln, with assistance from Marc Mixon) and the sound (designed by Todd Mack Reischman) delineate the various settings – including Becky and Joe’s home, the car dealership, Walter’s home, and Becky’s car – in an integrated way.  It is hard to describe how seamless and fun the delineations are without spoiling them, so I’ll just say that the combination of flexibility, creativity, precision, and “references back” is very cool.

The set felt very spacious to me, so I was surprised when the show’s dramaturg, Richard J. Roberts, said during a post-show discussion last weekend that this is one of the most intimate sets the IRT has ever had.  He pointed out that the set extends forward right next to the front row of audience seats and that there is an unusually large amount of space back stage, behind the set’s back wall.  That made sense to me, especially after I thought about what I had seen when my friend and I got to go up and explore the set as part of the IRT’s opening night tradition.  I think the set felt large and spacious to me because really, with all of the audience interaction, the whole theatre is the “set.”  It is also because there are so many little levels for action within the set, and because the set has such clean, elegant lines.  However, I agree that it somehow feels intimate, too, and that the intimacy is very appealing.

Nan Zabriskie’s costume designs are witty and just right: from Ginger’s backless seduction gowns to Kenni’s only-for-the-young-and-rich designer heels to Walter’s classy double-breasted suits to Joe’s unpretentious sweat pants to Steve’s OCD hiking boots to Chris’s student-life/life-student t-shirts to Becky’s multi-purpose beige trench coat.

Becky and Benita

Now that I have been to see “Becky’s New Car” twice, I am sure that I would love it even if I didn’t know the behind-the-scenes story of how it came about, but that story is still pretty endearing.

I heard the story directly before I read about it in my program.  Charles Staadecker, a businessman in Seattle, Washington, asked his wife, Benita, what she would like for her next significant birthday.  She told everyone in a little speech at the champagne toast after the opening night of “Becky’s New Car” at the IRT that she could have asked for an emerald necklace or something, but that would have mostly just sat in a drawer.  She asked for the commission of a new play instead. 

So…Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) commissioned a new comedy from reliable Seattle playwright Steven Dietz and Charles paid for it.  The Staadeckers loved the resulting Seattle hit so much that when ten regional theatres around the country picked up the script, Charles and Benita made plans to travel to all ten premieres.  In the Staadecker household, the Indianapolis production is known as “Becky 5.”  Benita wears her “lucky Becky dress” (a beautiful red dress that she accessorized here with a golden headband) to every opening night.

Benita said, “We are not rich,” which made me roll my eyes a little because, c’mon, Benita, yes, you are, compared to a lot of people. 

“We are not rich,” she said again, as if she could see me rolling my eyes from my hiding place behind a pillar.  “You could do this, too.” 

And yes, she was encouraging the other rich people in the swanky opening night crowd at the IRT to consider commissioning a work of performance art.  I agree: that would be very good of them.  I hope they do it.

But her words also reminded me that anyone can ask for (or treat themselves to) performance art instead of clutter for their next celebration, whether the treat is a whole commission of a new piece or simply a ticket to one performance of a new piece.

Benita and I come from the same place after all.  I am grateful to her and her husband for making “Becky’s New Car” possible.

Box Office

So…“Becky’s New Car” is an unknown but completely satisfying night at the theatre.   Should you go see it?  Of COURSE you should!  You know if you read my blog regularly that I always say that everyone should go see every show and decide for themselves whether it is good or not.  Make a habit out of going to the theatre!

However, if your theatre habit only has room for three shows a year, I would definitely make “Becky’s New Car” one of your three in 2010.

To make a reservation for a celebration, please call the IRT ticket office at 317-635-5252 or visit www.irtlive.com.  To go on a whim and take your chances on getting a half-price ticket, “rush” the ticket counter in the IRT lobby in person less than an hour before show time.  Park for $3 in the Circle Center Mall parking garage.  The “sun” section is closer to the IRT than the “moon” section.

“Becky’s New Car” runs through Sunday, April 11, 2010. 

By the way, another new Steven Dietz play, “Yankee Tavern,” opens at the Phoenix Theatre tomorrow (Thursday), April 8, 2010.  For more information and to make a reservation, please call the Phoenix box office at 317-635-PLAY or visit the Phoenix Theatre website.

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

Follow @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com, too.

(Photo above by www.JulieCurryPhotography.com.)

*Yes, I make up my own words sometimes.  You knew what I meant, though, right?

4 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Becky’s New Car” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre”

  1. Hope,

    Just to give you and your readers a heads up, our Producer’s Party will be this Friday (April 9th) after the 8pm performance of Yankee Tavern. We will have free beer, punch, and food. AND the best part is that a new local Indy band, Monkey Fighting Snakes, will be playing pre-show on the set and afterwards during the party in the Basile Theatre. This is a great band consisting mostly from some “local theatre people.” It will be a great night. Hope to see you there!

    Thanks!
    Ben Snyder

    317.635.7529 for tickets

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