Monday, February 14, 2011

Becky's New Car

Birthday present makes for fun theatre at Actors' Summit

When his wife, who was approaching her 60th birthday, said she wanted something special for a present, what do you think Seattle's Charles Staadecker did? Buy her a large diamond? Make plans for an around the world cruise? Had Vera Wang design her an original ball gown? Nope. Staadecker commissioned prolific playwright Steven Dietz to write and dedicate a play in wife Benita's honor. Not a play about her, but a comedy. The results: BECKY'S NEW CAR, now in production at Actors' Summit.

The Staadeckers were in attendance at the opening night of the Actors' Summit production of their play. They revealed that they have seen the show around 60 times. As each theatre company, and there have been around 20 productions, opens its stagings, the Staadeckers traipse off to see it.

BECKY'S NEW CAR, is the story of Becky. Becky, who, picks up after her adult son, a grad student who is still living at home. She does her usual household chores and interacts with her kind, but boring husband. She goes off to work as an employee at a car agency. There she is forced to listen to a depressed salesman who has not gotten over the loss of his wife. She finds herself wishing for another life, a second chance. Well, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

Into Becky's life come a rich suitor who mistakenly believes she's a widow. That results in a story of twists and turns which finally ends with Becky's literally accelerating out of her control.

BECKY'S NEW CAR is funny and will offend no one. It's a script of irony, which is a little corny and gets close to the ridiculous in plot construction. At the obvious end of the show the audience applauded, waiting for the curtain call, and then there was an unnecessary final scene. Why Dietz decided to add a 30-second add-on scene is not clear.

Under the direction of Constance Thackaberry, the AS production generally works. Because it is too languidly paced, some of the tension and laugh lines are missed, but hopefully, as the cast melds together, the show will pick up speed.

There are lots of clever shticks. Becky talks to the audience, involves them in getting her chores done, allows theatre-goers to help make some decisions about the play's format, and even uses three of them to form a wall while she changes costumes.

Paula Kline-Messner is delightful as the first bored, then panic stricken Becky. Kline-Messner has a nice touch with comedy and her face is a roadmap of emotions.

Mark Leach as son Chris, does a great job of portraying the pscyh major who drives his parents crazy by constantly diagnosing them and everyone else with various disorders. Casey Novak is realistic as Chris's girlfriend with a surprising secret and Anne McEvoy effectively develops the role of an over-the-hill debutant who has recently lost her inheritance. Tony Zanoni is properly kvetchy as the car salesman, who simply can't get over his wife's death, until a magic incident occurs.

Both Bob Keefe as Becky's husband, and Rich Goodwin as Becky's wealthy suitor, have some good moments, but their characterizations come and go.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Actors' Summit has transitioned nicely into its new home in the Greystone Hall in Akron. BECKY'S NEW CAR is a good choice for its target audiences and makes for a fun evening of theatre.