Lyric Stage's "Becky's New Car": Larger than "Life"

The titular heroine of Lyric Stage’s production of the comedy “Becky’s New Car”, by prolific playwright Steven Dietz, proclaims that “when a woman says she needs new shoes, what she really wants is a new job; when she says she needs a new house, she wants a new husband; and when she says she wants a new car, she wants a new life”. Alas, Becky Foster (Celeste Oliva) is an unhappy wife with a seemingly dead end job (processing auto titles and managing a car dealership). Her rather mundane (in her eyes) husband Joe (Mike Dorval) is a roofer, and their son Chris (Alex Marz) is a perennial student constantly quoting psychobabble. When Becky meets wealthy widower Walter Flood (Will McGarrahan) and he mistakes her for a widow, all sorts of previously undreamt possibilities emerge. At the same time, one of her colleagues at work, recently widowed Steve (Jaime Carrillo) is depressed at his own status and forever remembering (and, worse, verbalizing) the details of his wife’s dramatic death. Meanwhile, Walter’s daughter Kenni (Samantha Richert) and neighbor Ginger (Kortney Adams) have their own issues with finding mates.

This work deals with the various permutations and combinations these seven playing pieces in the game of life present, and they are certainly varied. Each member of the ensemble is great, as is the overall direction by Larry Coen. Oliva in particular is a dramatic dynamo, and the work of the rest of the cast is on the same fine level. The hit of the show, not to denigrate the performances in the least, is the Scenic Design by Shelley Barish, which manages to be gorgeous and fun at the same time, a giant colorful game board larger than “Life” (or other games on view, such as "Mystery Date" and "Chutes and Ladders"). The other tech crew contributions are also top-notch, from the Costume Design by Emily Woods Hogue to the Lighting Design by Margo Cadell and the Sound Design by Edward Young.

Would that all this talent were matched by an equally memorable script, but such is sadly not the case. All the efforts of the cast and crew can’t overcome the basic thinness of the plot and a lot of really unnecessary gimmickry. Beginning with some announcements made by the actors in character directly to the audience, the playwright initially breaks down the fourth wall, then obliterates it. This open approach continues with considerable audience participation, too frequent and too uninspired, and not very original. Just two examples of the level of humor: Becky hands an audience member a roll of toilet paper with the instruction to “put this in the bathroom when you go”, and one character’s double entendre about another’s assets as an amateur detective, “You’re a regular dick”. There are a few basic lacunae in the telling of Becky’s story, such as why she finds it necessary to find that new car and new life, since her husband Joe comes across as a rather likeable chap, and why her son‘s search for direction is seen by her as a crisis. As for her own plight in life, she states that “women of a certain age become invisible, I want to be seen”, and “I’d rather keep driving in some other car (that is, life) other than this one”, yet she’s the driving force behind all we see. Other characters comment that “life is chaos and holidays”, that “blackmail is fun” and that “things unravel faster than they…ravel”. Unrelentlessly cynical and sarcastic satire wears thin pretty quickly, despite a few verbal blows that succeed. The games people play become sillier as the plot unravels or ravels. The program notes quote Jane Austen, “happiness in marriage is a matter of chance”. So is attending theatre, and if gamesmanship is one of your pastimes, this may be just your cup of tea.

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