By the time we’ve reached mid-life, most of us have at least the occasional fantasy of what it would be like to live a whole other life than the one we’re leading. In the case of Becky Foster, the central character of Steven Dietz’s Becky’s New Car (now onstage in a Banyan Theater production), that fantasy springs to life in surprising ways.
Becky (Geraldine Librandi) is like many of us who’ve been in the same marriage and the same job for a while: She’s not really unhappy, but the thrill is gone. She’s got a good but often absent husband, Joe (Don Walker); a 26-year-old son, Chris (Jess Dornan), who’s driving her slightly crazy; and a job at a car dealership where she’s overworked and underappreciated. No wonder she starts talking to us immediately about her problems and her need for a change, even drawing audience members into helping her out with household chores and a leaky roof.
Peter Thomasson and Geraldine Librandi in the Banyan's Becky's New Car.
Photo by Gary Sweetman
Things do change for Becky one mysterious night when she’s working late and into her office walks Walter Flood (Peter Thomasson), an older gentleman with a wealthy background, a dead wife, and no clue about what to give his employees for appreciation gifts. But he’s thinking cars, and before she knows what’s really happening, Becky has sold him nine—and accidentally on purpose given him the notion that her spouse is dead, too.
So the stage is set for a romantic comedy, with complications ensuing from the play’s other characters: Walter’s daughter, Kenni (Rachel Swindler); his old family friend, Ginger (Melliss Kenworthy); and a widowered car salesman, Steve (Robert D. Mowry), who’s always in need of a sympathetic shoulder. Will Becky drive away from her “real” life to find escape with Walter, leaving Joe in the dust? Or is her need to get away more a personal quest than a romantic one?
Dietz has loaded his play with lots of little comic touches and twists. As director Gil Lazier’s program notes point out, no character here is unlikable; Dietz gives each of them enough humanity and dimension (although the younger characters, Chris and Kenni, slightly less so) to make us identify and care about what happens to them.
That’s true also because of the cast, who under Lazier’s capable direction can handle both the quieter moments of the play and the more loudly funny ones, as Becky’s lies catch up with her. Librandi is always engaging as Becky; Walker has the right patience and dry sense of humor as Joe; and Thomasson is wonderfully appealing in his naivete as Walter, whose wealth and family background have shielded him from so much of the day-to-day realities of ordinary lives. Kenworthy gets in a few good licks as the sharply frank Ginger, and Dornan’s Chris is suitably irritating when he starts spouting sociological and philosophical jargon.
Becky’s New Car is entertaining, sure, but it also has its more touching aspects in the story of what happens to us when, as Walter puts it, “the unexpected fades away”—the unexpected that we can’t help but sometimes long for. The production continues through July 11 in the Cook Theatre; for tickets call 351-2808 or go to banyantheatercompany.com.