WHO'S IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT? The cast of Becky's New Car.
Amid the winter rigors of shoveling out and an imminent Valentine’s Day, the Good Theater offers a bit of light theatrical catharsis and relief, in a slight but very entertaining story of mid-life crisis, Becky’s New Car. Good Theater stages a buoyant production of Steven Dietz’s comedy at the St. Lawrence, under the direction of Brian P. Allen.
The set announces right off that we shouldn’t hold the proceedings onstage to too realistic a standard of plausibility: Panels of impossibly blue sky and white clouds, a la Magritte, suggest a setting of fantasy or whimsy, while upstage, perfectly shaped topiaries spiral upward. Becky (Laura Houck), a restless middle-aged car dealership manager, will visit among those posh hedges, but she lives downstage, in the humble middle-class home she shares with her roofer husband Joe (Paul Drinan) and grad student son Chris (Jesse Leighton). It’s in her own home, by the plaid sofa, that Becky opens the play, hand-held vacuum running, as she greets the audience with a bright “Hi!” She will confide in us constantly throughout the play and her great crisis: meeting millionaire widower Walter (Paul Haley) and being transported into a romantic alternate life among the topiaries and idle rich.
Houck’s Becky is brisk, funny, and endearing, with gratifyingly little self indulgence; she holds much of her discontent in the tightness of her smile. She and Joe share a homey rapport and there is a fun snappiness in their household banter with Leighton’s smart-ass, ebullient Chris, while Drinan (though looking perhaps a little too young and/or handsome for this middle-aged Everyman role) gives a workmanlike, sympathetic performance. His portrayal becomes especially compelling as Joe starts to behave with more tension and laconic restraint, as Becky’s middle-class and ultra-rich worlds inevitably (and farcically) begin to cross.
As for the man luring Becky away from her status quo, Haley is a pure delight. In a role that could have easily become a cartoon — the loopy millionaire — Haley gives a surprising, sensitive performance full of curiosity, nuance, and gentle jesting. Always a great physical comedian, here he uses it to ever so lightly infuse Walter’s wistfulness with a self-aware sense of humor. His Walter, wearing a succession of sharp suits, is somehow at once loose-bodied and tightly wound, but he also gracefully brings him down to quiet moments, as when he ends a long, humorous, kinetic speech about the agony of shopping with a small, sad smile. Haley’s subtle work lends stakes and substance to Becky’s attraction, and he also shares fine, dry rapports with Allison McCall, as his daughter Kenni, and Kathleen Kimball, as an upper-class gold-digger, both of whom are stellar. McCall and Kimball, great comediennes, draw these women as pricelessly mellifluous caricatures, but with cracks that eventually reveal them as poignant and believable characters.