Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Becky's New Car
Sonoma Arts Live Theater Company
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Ryan Engstrom: Songs of a Reluctant Sphinx, The Roaring Girl, You Mean to Do Me Harm, A Night with Janis Joplin


Melissa Claire
Photo by Miller Oberlin
The theory of the multiverse posits that there are many—perhaps an infinite number—of universes aligned next to ours, each similar in almost every way, varying only slightly from one to another. In one instance of the multiverse you might be an ordinary person living in a modest home, while in another you might find yourself in the lap of luxury, with every need provided for. Some believe we shift from one instance of the multiverse to another at every moment, with every choice we make having ripple effects. What feels like our future, or a destiny, may in fact only be the shift from one parallel universe to another.

So it is for Becky (Melissa Claire), who is married to Joe (Matt Witthaus) and employed in the finance department of a local car dealership, where she feels overworked and underappreciated. At home, she's worried her 26-year-old son will never leave the nest. We know all this because in Becky's New Car, currently in production by Sonoma Arts Live, Becky tells us. She speaks directly and openly to the audience about her desire for something different, something new, maybe even something exciting. She enlists our help in solving some of her problems, like the bucket she gives to someone in the audience to catch the drips from her leaky ceiling. Or asking another patron to collate and staple a pile of documents.

This regular breaking of the fourth wall (actually, it doesn't break, because it's never really there) serves to reinforce the idea that Becky wants another life, another existence—and if she can't find one in the story, she'll use ours. Fortunately for the shyer members of the audience, a potential new life appears at work one night, when Walter (Mike Pavone) wanders into the showroom. In need of Christmas gifts for his employees he buys nine cars from Becky. Their eyes meet and in them Becky sees a new world for herself.

Despite crisp direction from Carl Jordan and some solid performances from the cast, Becky's New Car suffers from a fatal flaw: playwright Steven Dietz has failed to establish a compelling reason as to why we should believe Becky wants something different. Husband Joe is kind, thoughtful, understanding, sexy, loyal. Yes, their son is still living in the basement, but that's hardly tragedy enough to justify the decisions Becky seems ready to make.

On the surface, Becky's New Car is quirky and colorful and often quite funny. But like a bag of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, where every once in a while among the blueberry and marshmallow flavors you will find an earwax or rotten egg flavored bean, the dark side of Dietz's play makes it presence known in surprising ways. There is weirdness and coincidence and twists of fate that take Becky's New Car into interesting—if sometimes unsettling—ground. When car salesman Steve (Stephen Dietz—apparently no relation to the playwright) tells Becky what he'd really like to say to the child who thought petting his puppy would improve his mood, you can feel the play shift into a parallel universe of its own.

Becky's New Car plays through June 25, 2017, at the Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall at the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E Napa St, Sonoma, CA. Shows are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $26-37 and available at SonomaArtsLive.org.


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