Sometimes our lives become defined by such familiar, indelible routines that we don’t notice how tedious they are until something – or someone – upsets the formula. This realization hits Becky Foster, the protagonist of Steven Dietz’s play “Becky’s New Car,” when a widowed, socially awkward millionaire wanders into the car dealership where she works.
Becky (Kathie Doyle-Lipe) has been married to Joe (Steven Blount) for 28 years, her grown son still lives at home, and she’s taken on too many responsibilities with her job, but she’s more or less content with her life. But all of that changes when Walter Flood (Gary Pierce) enters the scene. He’s looking to purchase nine new cars as gifts for his employees, and in seeking advice from Becky about which models to buy, he comes to think that she’s a widow.
“He assumes her husband is dead – it’s just a communication mix-up,” said Christopher Wooley, who is directing “Becky’s New Car” for Spokane Civic Theatre, “and he doesn’t stop talking long enough for Becky to say that her husband is still alive.”
This basic misunderstanding begets an unexpected (albeit morally questionable) relationship. Walter asks Becky out on a date, and she accepts out of politeness and possibly embarrassment, but she unexpectedly starts to fall in love with him. She resolves to keep Joe’s existence a secret from Walter, as well as Walter’s from Joe, and Becky soon finds that living two separate lives is far more exhausting and unfulfilling than she could have imagined.
Although it’s dealing with potentially weighty themes – midlife crises, identity and infidelity – “Becky’s New Car” is, for the most part, a wild, energetic comedy. Its breathless pacing, dexterous dialogue and farcical misunderstandings recall something closer to “Three’s Company” than, say, a serious meditation on marriage and monogamy.
“It’s a very, very fast-paced play, so we jump around from scene to scene to scene quite a bit,” Wooley said. “There’s one page of the script where we’re in four different locations.” Becky also breaks the fourth wall on several occasions, acknowledging the audience directly and personally involving them in her own dilemmas.
The set, which imagines all four of the play’s locations in Civic’s studio theater space, is open and colorful, and Wooley has decorated the walls with images of puzzle pieces. “We use puzzles as a motif for the entire show,” he said, “how everything pieces together and forms one unique picture. When something’s put in the wrong spot or isn’t done correctly, things start to change and chaos ensues.”
That chaos, though, is at the service of a deceptively thoughtful story, which Wooley said considers the consequences of Becky’s actions without sermonizing. “It’s not an overt moral,” he said. “The ending’s a little bit ambiguous, which lets the audience think. It’s up to each person’s interpretation about what to take from it.”