Becky sells expensive cars. Her husband Joe is a roofer. They have been married for 28 years. Their 26-year-old son Chris is still in school and lives in their basement. A demonstrably ordinary and relatively contented family. What could possibly go wrong?
The play is “Becky’s New Car,” a dramedy by Steven Dietz that is currently extending its Southern California premiere run at the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice. But what makes this otherwise predictable play especially engaging is that the audience is immediately drawn into the action.
There is no fourth wall. The players talk directly to the audience, asking their opinions, expressing their concerns, and even cajoling them to come onstage and participate. At the performance I attended, one white-haired gentleman, drawn to the stage to dance with the star, apparently enjoyed his moment of fame so much that he kept right on dancing by himself, darting through one on-stage exit and bouncing back a few seconds later through another, earning a hearty round of applause from the audience.
But soon the drama part sets in. Becky, working late, is alone in her office when a distinguished older man drops in to buy “a little gift” for his staff. Within minutes he has ordered nine new cars and then, relaxing, begins a friendly conversation. It seems he is a widower as well as a gazillionaire, and for some inexplicable reason he infers that Becky is a widow. She tries to tell him that she isn’t, but the communication goes awry and before long she has received an invitation to a party at his local mansion. (Here she appeals to the audience to help her decide whether or not to accept; the audience is unanimous in urging her to go. Naughty audience!)
By the end of the play, Becky drives off in a new car, a bonus from her boss for having sold so many cars, and she continues to drive for 600 miles. Whom she comes back to — her husband or the wealthy gentleman — or whether she comes back at all, is the final question. And for the answer, she doesn’t turn to the audience to help her decide. (Although that would be an interesting diversion.)
The night I saw the play, Becky was played by Carla Obert (rather than Joanna Daniels), and her son Chris was played by Michael Hanson, rather than Nick Rogers. Both of them did a fine job, as did the rest of the cast: Jon Eric Preston as Joe, Brad Greenquist as the wealthy widower, Jules Willcox as his daughter, and Christopher Shaw as a perpetually troubled co-worker in Becky’s office. But the star turn was the brief appearance of Suzanne Ford as the classy would-be girlfriend of the gazillionaire.
The practical set design by William Wilday consists of Becky and Joe’s living room downstage right, Becky’s office downstage left, and in the middle, an all-purpose balcony. Audrey Eisner’s costumes are attractive and appropriate. But major kudos must go to Becky and Joe for their lively interactions with the audience, as well as to director Michael Rothhaar for keeping this delightful play moving and all the balls in the air.
“Becky’s New Car” will continue at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., in Venice (where it has been running since July 10), Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Oct. 24. Even after all this time, it still plays to a packed house, so hurry and get your tickets by calling (310) 822-8392.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.