Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Review of "Becky's New Car"


At B Street: “Becky’s New Car” toys with adultery

Foreground: Brian Rife, Ashley Padovani; background: Elisabeth Nunziato

Photo: b street staff

A playwright often succeeds by turning a cliché on its head. The prolific and fashionable Steven Dietz does so in “Becky’s New Car,” now on stage at Sacramento’s B Street Theatre. Like many middle-aged wives of our time, Becky Foster (Elisabeth Nunziato) holds down a job and takes care of her family.

She flips a cliché, though, when she embraces an adulterous relationship with a rich and elderly widower, Walter Flood (Dan Harlan), who’s almost overwhelmed by her eagerness, mistakenly thinking she’s also widowed. Based on today’s media it always seems to be the husband whose midlife crisis projects him into extra-marital dalliance.

Joe Foster (David Pierini), her good-hearted husband, is a working man of moderate income who seems to welcome her distracting labors in the office of Bill Buckley’s auto dealership, where she answers the phone and even makes a killer of a deal with Walter, who buys a fleet of cars through her.

Rounding out the cast are the Fosters’ son Chris (Brian Rife), a 26-year-old hanging on to his adolescence by staying in college long after the time when he should be earning a living in the workaday world. Lording it over his parents, and others, by spouting jargon from his major in psychology, he represents an interesting type rarely depicted on stage. A generation ago he would have been labeled a “scholarship bum.”

His female parallel in uselessness is blunt-speaking Ginger (Jamie Jones), financially comfortable but admittedly lacking in marketable skills. Sheila, Walter’s deceased wife, once described her as “sweet, angelic and completely non-stick.” Then there’s Steve (Greg Alexander), laid-back manager of the auto agency and the Fosters’ family friend. Finally, we meet Kenni Flood (Ashley Padovani), Walter’s daughter. She and Chris fall in love and wind up getting married.

Nicely directed by Michael Stevenson, this outstanding cast makes the most of Dietz’ material. Unfortunately, Dietz gums up the comedy by having the players interact with the audience, often bringing members onto the stage. This dalliance with shtick works well for a variety show but undermines our willing suspension of disbelief. The opening night audience, though, seemed to enjoy the diversion, and there was no shortage of volunteers.

This audience intrusion, though, helps to mask the flaws in the plot, for instance the coincidental romance between Chris and Kenni. Would their adulterous parents have introduced them to each other?

A serviceable set design by Samantha Reno is suitable for the B Street’s main stage, three-quarters in the round. Reno puts the office on the north side, the home on the south. But the setup takes some getting-used-to, as when the office becomes the Fosters’ home office and the home becomes other locations. On the plus side, though, the set avoids losing time with changes of scenery.

Those who enjoyed Dietz’ impressive “Fiction,” which closed on February 28 at Capital Stage, may be disappointed in the lightweight “Becky’s New Car,” though the audience at B Street gave it a standing ovation.

“Becky’s New Car” continues through April 11 at 2711 B Street, behind the Stanford Park Baseball Field. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 and 9 p.m., and Sundays and Wednesdays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22-$30. Call (916) 443-5300. See also www.btreettheatre.org.

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