2nd Story’s Becky’s New Car Provides a Bumpy but Entertaining Ride
An evening of undeniable entertainment.by Robert Barossi, Broadwayworld.com
The two shows currently playing at 2nd Story Theater in Warren, RI were not originally scheduled as part of this year’s season. They are both replacement shows, chosen by Artistic Director Ed Shea, who is quoted as saying that he wanted audiences to “have fun” and leave the theater “feeling joyful.” Though I haven’t seen the show playing in the DownStage space, Shea has certainly achieved that goal with the UpStage production, Becky’s New Car, a play that, regardless of some faults, provides an evening of undeniable entertainment.
Written by Steven Dietz, Becky’s New Car concerns a woman, the titular Becky, of course, who is at middle-age and is stuck in neutral. She has a pretty dull, average life, living in suburbia with her husband and grown-up son who still lives at home with mom and dad. Her job at a car dealership is equally boring and unfulfilling. That is, until a strange man walks into the dealership one night, giving her the opportunity to change her life or at least to spice things up a bit. While similar stories have been told to dramatic effect, this tale of a woman pondering the question of “should I or shouldn’t I?” is played strictly for laughs.
It’s actually not entirely played for laughs, but more on that in a moment. It takes Dietz a while to get his script going, primarily because he’s got a lot of exposition and setup to get out the way. The setup involves some tricky theatrical conventions, including the lead character directly addressing the audience and lots of audience interaction, even participation, in the play’s action. While audience participation or interaction can often come across as unnecessary and/or silly, it actually works nicely here. Dietz crafts some fun moments between the lead character and the very real audience she has invited into her life.
The fact that so much of the theatrical tricks work is helped the character of Becky, written as a very real and very lovable person, easy to embrace and root for. All of Dietz’s characters are very familiar and universal, which also helps in the enjoyment of the story. There’s plenty of wit and sarcasm peppered throughout, providing more than a few laugh-out-loud moments. The faults in the script come in the play’s second half, though. First, Dietz tries to cram too much into the second act, practically creating an old-school French farce, though it never really comes together or works. Then, the play’s final section takes a very strange turn. There’s a plot twist and tonal shift that both come across poorly, not working at all. It’s unfortunate that Dietz couldn’t find a better way to wrap up his play, a road more in line with the journey he crafted so well in the first half.
Led by director Mark Peckham, the cast seemed to be having a blast with this story, no on more so than Margaret Melozzi as Becky. Perfectly cast, Melozzi never seems like an actress playing a part. She creates a very real person in Becky and brings all of her mannerisms, responses and emotions to vivid life. The writing, directing and acting, all working well together, really make Becky a woman the audience falls in love with and loves watching for the play’s entire length.
As Walter, the mystery man who changes Becky’s life, the always reliable Vince Petronio is again wonderful. He gives Walter an air of suave, debonair style while at the same time making him just a but eccentric and clueless. It’s really his entrance that gets the play moving and propels it forward. As the other man in Becky’s life, her husband Joe, Kerry Callery is also pitch-perfect. Joe really is an “average joe,” but Callery gives him wonderful touches of sarcasm as well as believable emotion.
The rest of the characters get less depth and development and less time on stage, but the ensemble does nice work regardless. F. William Oakes gets some great monologues and very funny moments as one of the salesmen at the car dealership. Jeff DeSisto is a lot of fun as Becky and Joe’s son, Chris, who seems to be stuck in place much like his mother. Rae Mancini is delightful as Ginger, a friend of Walter’s, and Erin Elliott is underused but delivers a very nice performance as Kenni, Walter’s daughter.
Becky’s New Car makes no bones about the kind of play it is, which is just fine. It does not make apologies for breaking the fourth wall or dealing with the subject matter with a lighthearted and humorous touch. And all in all, if you’re looking for an evening of fun, entertaining theater, it is a car well worth driving.