BWW Review: It is Fun Riding Shotgun in BECKY'S NEW CAR at Birmingham Festival Theatre
"Becky's New Car" is comedy where you ride shotgun with a middle aged woman's journey to find clarity in self worth, fidelity and second chances. With no map and no clue, she finds herself lost at the middle of a quirky comedy with no exit in sight.
Right from the start of the play, Becky (Harper Wood) invites the audience to take a ride into her daily humdrum life. Clearly a practiced multi tasker, Becky chats with the audience while cleaning up after her family; her roofer husband Joe (Brad Riegel), and twenty something son Chris (Blake Tanner). She speaks candidly on her life but with each sweep of the broom more thoughts on living with disappointment arise. These worries stack up and are heavy on her heart. Her Mary Tyler Moore smile is unsuccessful at dimming her feelings of uncertainty attached with middle age. She is feeling lost in her life and is trying to find a map. The plot gets going when the hapless millionaire widower Walter (Jack Heidt) arrives at the car dealership Becky works at. His purchases and attraction lead Becky into weaving a web of lies that spawn a comically deceitful duality with every mistruth. The comedic beats of the plot are similar to the ones found sitcoms but the touchable characters dealing with relationship and middle age is what sells the show. The cast directed by Kathleen Jensen displays a deep study into their character development.
Harper Wood was drawn to play Becky for she felt a real connection to the character. . "I really enjoyed the story. I just turned fifty so I can identify with her as a person of her age. She loves her life, she's content with her life but she feels like there is something missing. "At times Becky's insightful internal monologues with the audience become interactive. Which is dangerous ground to have in a show. Wood is impressive at thinking fast on her feet and is able to give Becky's short moments past the 4th wall just enough time and move back to into the show. Other characters in Becky's journey are Walter secretive daughter Kenni (Katie Hall Milligan), their family friend and salty socialite Ginger (Suzee Wood Lee) and Becky's tightly wound co-worker Steve (Andrew Willmore).
The plot is held together in a comedy prose so it's played for laughs not tears. That being said the cast do an amazing job drawing emotion. Becky's predicaments could all be quelled if it she would just tell the truth. But when you are searching to find who you really are, the truth can be hard to face. Regardless of your age you will find these characters are all very identifiable and relatable. You may find a moment when you find something in the show that happened in your life.
Jack Heidt plays the role of Walter with meekness and a romantic heart. He found Dietz's mix of drama and humor in the script to be a draw. "Its such a quirky play, there is a lot of humor in it and a lot of truth. When you reach middle age sometimes you want to spread your wings and explore what is out there that you may be missing. All the while not realizing that sometimes the grass is not greener on the other side. It's just greener over the septic tank."
Becky's huggable husband Joe is brought to life by Brad Riegel. He brings an abundance of personality and a wonderful delivery. He does a sharp job of conveying Joe's unwavering love for his wife. . He found the role to be a joy to play." I love Joe's sense of humor, sincerity, dedication to his wife and family." Each characters journey in the show gives highlight to embracing the complexities found while being in love. "Like a magnet all the pieces come together and wraps up the characters in a very warm way."
Blake Tanner delivers Chris with a balanced mix of realism and the typical "college kid" character. He finds the contact of love shared when young and old to be a strong in the show. "I love how the play touches on moving into middle age and kind of feeling stuck in a rut, juxtaposed to how fast young love is it is and how quick it moves."
Katie Hall Milligan brings focused character work into the role of Kenni. Her attention to detail aids in a strong performance. Everything from a signature handshake, curious eyebrow raises and how she works it in that blue cocktail dress. "We all worked hard on character development. You can ask us about little details and we can tell you why we did it. The traits add to an air of high society that is supports Milligan's great acting.
Suzee Wood Lee seamlessly breezes into the role family friend and high society hostess Ginger. Lee's performance delivers salty snob but is also tender and sweet. Lee also found a connection with her role. "My life did not turn out intentionally how I had planned. I know what it is like to have life throw you a curve ball. When Ginger's humility comes unexpectedly in the show she enjoyed playing off her new admiration. . She's never worked before and finds inspiration in Becky's journey. She finds a respect for people who work for a living."
Andrew Wilmore as Steve successfully works comedy and dramatic elements into an oddball character without making him a complete a goofball. Wilmore's character work plays the emotional pitfalls with honesty to the role. "I want to find the humanity in Steve. He can be a little bit of an annoying character, but I think he's annoying because he is still hurting so much from his ex's death." Wilmore delivers a hilarious portion on the story referred to as "The Puppy Monologue" that is a personal highlight of the show.
One of Birmingham's best, Kathleen Jensen directs the play and weaves this strong cast with a natural effect. She defines this experience saying, "It's been a blast. The energy that everyone brought into this was so positive. We instantly clicked with each other and bonded as a group." Her encouragement and support in working with the actors to develop such visibly strong character work. "It's been a great time finding these characters and in these moments. "
You will find these characters to be entertaining, enlightening and maybe even inspiring. "Becky's New Car" is a ride worth taking. Regardless of your age you will find these characters are all very identifiable and relatable. You may find a moment when you find something in the show that happened in your life. There is a passage in the program that speaks volumes to the heart of this play.
"We have two lives - the one we learn with, and life we live after that."
- Bernard Malamud
Birmingham Festival Theatre
Becky's New Car
By Steven Dietz
Directed by Kathleen Jenson
September 21 - October 7 Thurs/Fri/Sat 8PM (Sunday Matinee Oct 1 2PM)
Tickets: $25 (Student rate with valid student ID $10)
Birmingham Festival Theatre
1901 1/2 11th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35205
Tickets and info at (205) 933-2383 or www.bftonline.org
Photo credit: Steven Ross