[credits] by Steven Dietz – Directed by Joy Hawkins [/credits]
[dates] March 8 – April 9 2011[/dates] Shows are Wednesday- Saturday nights and tickets are $35 each except for Thrifty Thursdays when they are two for $50! You must call the box office directly to get this special.
From the review in The Citizen: “Becky’s New Car is an uncommonly witty, uncommonly touching comedy that keeps you laughing (alternating with big smiles) – until you aren’t.”
Red Barn Theatre continues its successful thirty-first season with a production of the hit comedy Becky’s New Car, written by Steven Dietz and directed by Joy Hawkins. This production is sponsored by Key TV and runs Wednesday – Saturdays through April 9th. Red Barn Theatre, Key West’s most intimate professional theatre, is located at 319 Duval Street, in the historic carriage house behind the Woman’s Club.
Reviewed by C. S. Gilbert
I confess: I’m in love with Maribeth Graham. She is the skilled, high-energy actor who plays the hell out of the title role in the Red Barn’s new comedy, “Becky’s New Car.” I probably noticed her first in 2001 or 2002 or both, when she took time off from a successful career up on the mainland to play the late, lamented Key West Theatre Festival. More recently she, with Mimi McDonald, was a big hit as half of the duo in “Women Who Steal” last season.
“Becky’s New Car” is an uncommonly witty, uncommonly touching comedy that keeps you laughing (alternating with big smiles) — until you aren’t.
“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,” Becky quotes a friend early in the show. One might, then, imagine this to be an ordinary midlife-crisis story but one would be wrong.
Graham carries the show; she plays Becky as a woman with gifts of empathy, vulnerability and bravery. The role also tests her substantial skills at improvisation; there is no fourth wall in her living room and she not only interacts with the audience but actually brings a couple of them on stage; she has to guide their behavior in the direction of the plot — which was not terribly easy on either night that I caught the show. She managed with easy charm, even in the case of a woman who felt totally comfortable on stage and added considerably to both dialogue and hilarity. Becky is a character who’s easy to care about.
Indeed, every character in the show is lovable, except possibly Chris, the 25-year-old live-at-home son, a psychology grad student who spouts theory, jargon and arrogance until I was ready to throttle him — but I decided to laugh instead. Marathon Community Theatre regular Justin Ahern is ultimately endearing in his Red Barn debut. The immensely versatile Doug Shook, full of hurt and hope and kindness, breaks my heart as the wealthy widower Walter, Becky’s new romance. Kyle Caskey, he of the ever-elastic facial features, makes the most of his comedic gifts as Steve, Becky’s also-widower-and-grieving office colleague, although the character’s switch to potential blackmailer comes a bit abruptly. Dancer Erin McKenna, Key West Burlesque’s talented and adored Cheeky Derriere, shows her acting chops in her Red Barn debut as Kenni, Walter’s daughter.
And film veteran and recording artist Mook J, as Becky’s husband, Joe the roofer, continues to stretch and grow as a legitimate actor. He expresses emotion well and his comedic timing is excellent. About the only things standing in his way, frankly, are his name, which unfairly predisposes the viewer to think of him as a rap performer, and diction that occasionally slides into street ethnolect not very suitable to a character who apparently grew up in Seattle and has lived there for more than 25 years with a person who speaks as Becky does.
Finally, Mary Falconer, as Walter’s no-longer-wealthy family friend Ginger, is extraordinary: wry, realistic, without a shred of self-pity and with enough poise and compassion to avoid being baited by Kenni for “swooping in” on her father. It is a poignant, effective scene. Having seen Falconer in both “Reefer Madness” and “Lend Me a Tenor,” I have a good deal of respect for her abilities.
To be noted, of course, is the aura enfolding all the cast: the very fine direction of Joy Hawkins and the backdrop of RJ Conn’s immensely utilitarian trifecta of a set, perfectly evocative of the Pacific Northwest, a middle-class home and a small, busy office. Technical matters are invisibly supportive (as they should be) under the direction of Gary McDonald and an able tech staff and crew.
Much-credited playwright Steven Dietz, however, left a few strings hanging, mostly challenges of character development that the cast handled as well as possible. But the end requires some of that old, classical “willing suspension of disbelief.” Dietz wrote the play for Seattle’s ACT, on commission from Charlie Staadecker as a 60th birthday gift for his feisty and funny wife, Benita. They attended Red Barn’s opening, as they did each of the 14 or so productions the play has received. In a talk-back following a Thursday show, Benita did most of the talking. But Charlie deemed the Red Barn version “truly magnificent,” saying, “This is the smallest theater we’ve ever been in but it has the biggest heart.”
Variety had this to say about Becky’s New Car: “perhaps the highest praise that can be given to Steven Dietz’s praiseworthy new comedy is that it’s funny. Not ironic. Not hysterical in a slapsticky kind of way. Just gently and consistently funny – right up to the point that it’s touching, and then even a little bit after that. Becky’s New Car takes the audience on a smart, comic cruise through the perils of middle-aged longing and regret.” In the play, Becky is caught in the middle – middle age, middle management, a middling marriage… One night, while trying to balance it all, something fantastic happens – Becky is offered a chance to escape everything and take on a new life entirely. Playwright Steven Dietz says that he was inspired to write Becky’s because “I have met most of my friends in my life by blind chance. I wondered what aspect happenstance plays in our lives and what the roads were that we didn’t take. What were the accidents that led us to most of the great things in our life? Becky is this woman who is happily married and has a decent enough job who gets an opportunity to see what its like to live a completely other life. She lives these two lives in a period of time until both lives come crashing down on her.” And of the show playing in the Florida Keys, Dietz says “I am delighted that the play has made the drive to Key West and Red Barn Theatre. It can only help the play that this theatre has 88 seats. I think it is terrific to let the audience feel that they are right there in Becky’s living room.”
The Story Behind the Story
The way the play Becky’s New Car came to be is almost as interesting as the play itself. Becky’s was actually commissioned by Charlie Staadecker as a present to his wife Benita for her 60th birthday. Charlie asked me what I wanted and I had an epiphany,” says Benita, “I said you know, we paid off our debt, we paid for the kids’ college, we have everything we could want. I happen to have a car that I love. And then I said ‘and you know I have all the jewelry I could ever want,’ which was a very foolish thing to say. So I told him to surprise me. Charlie went to ACT theatre and said ‘I know this is a crazy idea, but I would like to commission a play and give it to my wife for her birthday.’ And the only thing he told the only thing he asked was ‘please don’t make this dark. It is a birthday gift.’” ACT called Steven Dietz and Becky’s was born. The Staadeckers attend the opening of all professional productions of Becky’s New Car and will be at the Red Barn on opening night, Tuesday, March 8th and then participate in a talkback at the Red Barn Theatre after the show on Thursday, March 10th.
Behind the Scenes
The actors in the play are all exceptional. Accomplished Equity actress Maribeth Graham stars as Becky and audiences will remember her from last season’s sold-out run of Women Who Steal at the Barn. Graham has been nominated for a Carbonell Award (Florida’s version of the Tony) six times and has won the award three times. Justin Ahearn plays Becky’s slacker son Chris, Kyle Caskey is Becky’s stressed coworker Steve Singletary, Mook J is Becky’s roofer husband, Mary Falconer is broke society lady Ginger, Doug Shook is the new man, Walter Flood, and Erin McKenna is Walter’s daughter Kenni Flood. Director Joy Hawkins handpicked the cast and hopes audiences walk away “feeling like they have seen a terrific new play that is risky in its concept and just so alive in its theatricality that it resonates with everyone.”