Stage review: 'Becky's New Car' survives a few potholes with well-tuned humor


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Four wheels and a tank of gas, now that's freedom -- until you hit the Squirrel Hill Tunnels at 5 p.m. Then it's captivity. Local traffic aside, Americans have had a long love affair with the road, from Horace Greeley to John Steinbeck and now playwright Steven Dietz who's devised a corollary:

New car means a new life, especially for one desperate housewife, Becky Foster who wants to drive away from the mess she has made of her boring life.

'Becky's New Car'

Where: Point Park University's Pittsburgh Playhouse, Oakland.

When: Through Feb. 17. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Tickets: $15. 412-392-8000 or online, www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.

In the tight space of the Playhouse's Studio Theater, where the "fourth wall" is forgotten, a gawky Jodi Gage plays Becky as a naive, all-trusting soul who invites the audience into the cluttered home she shares with her husband, down-to-earth roofer, Joe (Tony Bingham), and son, the nerdy psychology student, Chris (Kevin Daniel O'Leary). It's a trio of the most self-absorbed people outside of "Hamlet," so into themselves that they can't see what's coming until it's too late.

But, again, everybody in Mr. Dietz's cast can't see beyond their noses. Billboard magnate Walter Flood and car salesman Steve Singletary obsess about their late wives, Flood's daughter Kenni (short for Kensington) worries about her status, and formerly rich neighbor Ginger has her hands full because her life is empty.

This foursome -- Randy Kovitz as the hapless millionaire who falls in love with Becky, Michael Fuller as the clumsy, irritating salesman, Katelyn Mancuso as clueless Kenni and Adrienne Wehr as the bankrupt heiress in need of a prosperous spouse -- caper hilariously through this charming farce that engages the crowd even when some of its members aren't on stage "helping" Becky decide what she should do.

The burden of Mr. Dietz's message rests mostly on Becky's narrow shoulders, but Ms. Gage plays the role as though that weight isn't as heavy as the playwright would want us to believe. There might be more desperation in her soul, yet Ms. Gage treats every encounter with the same goofy smile, even when the "truth" finally emerges.

While surprising no one with its contrived plot, "Becky's New Car" offers clear insights into lives that are stuck in neutral, from the Fosters' humdrum relationship to salesman Steve's inability to leave his past. Mr. Fuller plays that role to the fullest, if not too full, at times, but this is a farce after all and the other veteran actors understand that it gives them permission to play it as broadly as possible.

Ms. Wehr, well-known here for the indie film, "The Bread, My Sweet," gives Ginger the classic snobby socialite treatment. Mr. Kovitz has his moments as well, despite awkward lines like "Life is chaos and holidays."

Credit another stage vet, Mr. Bingham, with the most realistic, and perhaps most moving performance as the tolerant, accepting husband who manages to forgive his wayward wife because he might just understand what she was going after in that new car.

Director Kim Martin gives her cast enough rope to nearly hang themselves, which one almost did with a telephone cord opening night, lending a note of adventure to this fast-paced comedy with its veneer of seriousness. Maddie Bucci made clever choices with the narrow rectangle of the Studio Theater to devise a space that covers a lot of ground where there isn't very much.

theaterreviews

Bob Hoover: pittbookeditor@hotmail.com.


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