Theater Review: A Well-Tuned Joy Ride Over Rough Terrain
“Becky’s New Car” probably isn’t a play that you’ve heard of before. Playwright Steven Deitz’s fine-tuned tale of a middle-aged car dealership middle manager, who takes the wheel and steers her life down a road better not taken, has been quietly making the rounds of regional theaters since it was first published a half-decade ago.
The North Fork Community Theatre’s production, which opened in Mattituck last night, is just the second time this play has been performed on the East End.
This play is decidedly modern in its subject matter — a family stuck in an economic ‘flux,’ a 26-year-old son still living in the basement — and in its technique, playfully breaking the fourth wall as Becky takes the audience into her confidence and asks for help with chores around the house and the office.
Director Bob Kaplan, who also directed Hampton Theatre Company’s 2012 production of “Becky’s New Car,” has done a good job fine-tuning the seven-member cast.
Catherine Maloney, a veteran of the East End stage, is pretty darn likeable as Becky, a mother, wife and worker who is always busy, but, as she’s reminded by her grad student son Chris (Scott Joseph Butler), lacks the self-awareness to realize that her life is a dead end.
That is, until she conveniently manages to not get her point across when mild-mannered widower millionaire billboard magnate Walter Flood (Lon Shomer) comes into the dealership while she’s working late at night, looking to buy cars as gifts for his employees, pining over his dead wife and assuming that Becky is also a widow.
Becky’s devoted roofer husband Joe is played with great deadpan humor by Alan Stewart, a veteran of Northeast Stage’s Shakespeare productions whom you might have seen in NFCT’s 2014 production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Marguerite Volonts, a chanteuse whom you might have seen performing at Castello di Borghese Vineyard, steals the show as Walter Flood’s heiress neighbor, who longs for honest conversation and an even more honest day’s work.
Becky doesn’t set off on a path of deception as she’s wooed by Walter Flood — early on she tries to explain that she is very much married and her husband is very much alive — but once she realizes that Walter has already made up his mind that she is a widow, she lets the unspoken lie continue, taking a sharp turn that, like the butterfly effect, is magnified more and more with each scene until total chaos erupts.
It’s the kind of chaos you’d expect by a theatrical form that relies on mistaken identity and deception — a tangled web that even leads to chaos in Chris’s newfound infatuation with injured runner Kenni (Marissa Russo), who drives her own car (with her crutches in the seat beside her) while Chris runs alongside, panting and spouting psychobabble in a severe case of puppy love.
This play is funny — it’s the type of funny that leads you chuckling through Becky’s early monologue exposition and straight through the meat of the story — but it is also funny because it lets the bleak side of human relationships through.
That bleakness is embodied by Becky’s co-worker Steve, played with post-traumatic fervor by Matthew S. Orr, a granola-munching hiker and car salesman who took to sleeping under his desk after his wife fell off a cliff.
Steve is mesmerized by a customer with black mirror-finish fingernails whose husband had just left her for a swimsuit model. The customer buys a loaded black luxury model and drives it off a cliff. Becky gets the same car as a bonus, but instead ends up in the passenger seat while Joe takes her on Sunday drives past the sites of her unfortunate dalliances.
There are many roads that lead to hell, but perhaps none are as hellish as the road traveled repeatedly for a lifetime past the scene of a life-changing shenanigans. The biggest wonder is that we can laugh at any of this at all.
But you will laugh, and you will be glad you saw “Becky’s New Car.”
Performances will be held at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays March 4 through March 19, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays March 6, 13 and 20. Tickets are $15 and are available by calling the box office at 631-298-NFCT or online here.