Theater Review: Theater Barn Gets Great Mileage Out Of ‘Becky’s New Car’

RIDGEFIELD — If a woman says she wants new shoes, it means she wants a new job. If she says she wants a new house, it means she wants a new husband. But if she says she wants a new car, it means she wants a new life.

This is the message that Maria de Vries, as the slightly daffy but clearly likeable Becky Foster, delivers in Steven Dietz’s slightly daffy but clearly likeable play, Becky’s New Car, currently in production at Ridgefield Theater Barn until December 7.

Blithely ignoring the fourth wall as she engages members of the audience, Becky introduces attendees to the dimensions of her life — a son, Chris, who refuses to leave the nest, or clean up his stuff, as he piles up student loan debt studying psychology in graduate school; a husband, Joe, whose job as a roofer keeps him too busy to fix the leak in their own ceiling, but who doesn’t bring home enough money to keep up their Costco membership; and her own stultifying job as office manager of a car dealership, which she’d like to leave, if only she could think of something better: go back to school to become a massage therapist?

A different opportunity knocks unexpectedly on a night when Becky is alone in her office, catching up on paperwork, with the entry of Walter Flood, a socially challenged millionaire, looking to buy presents for his staff. He thought perhaps cars might be a good idea. Everyone likes cars, after all.

Still grieving over the death of his wife, who used to manage these problems for him, Walter misinterprets a casual remark of Becky’s to mean that she too has been widowed, launching  her into the possibility of an affair that is not so much a matter of passion, but rather the opportunity to enter an upscale world of undreamt of luxury.

The play begins as a sort of comic take on some wistfully lonely people — not only Walter and Becky, but also Chris, Becky’s work mate; Steve, who is also mourning the death of his wife; Walter’s daughter Kenni, a poor little rich girl who hates the life of a debutante; and Ginger, the best friend of Walter’s late wife, who had entertained hopes of marrying him herself.

Halfway through, Becky’s New Car morphs into farce, involving cell phone mix-ups, unexpected entanglements between the two families, and the pressure on Becky of maintaining two separate lives.

As a comedy the play lacks the harsh satirical portrayals of a Stephen Durang or a John Guare, while as a farce, it has darker (or at least deeper) overtones than the frantic machinations of a Ray Cooney or a Ken Ludwig. What comes across in the end about these characters is their essential decency, and their ability to learn and grow.

Timothy Hubenthal plays Joe Foster as a rough hewn, good humored, generous guy who is neither ignorant nor vindictive. Ryan Wenke as Chris begins to mature before our eyes, as he gets beyond his condescending college student psychobabble to emerge as a responsible family member.

Dennis McGrath is sympathetic as the desperately lonely Steve, Laurel Lettieri gives one of her usual classy jobs in the smaller role of Ginger, and Sam Cassano is fine in the part of Walter’s daughter Kenni.

As Walter, the Daddy Warbucks-like central character, Philip Cook is more of a caricature than the others, but that is the way the play was written. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could be that gormless about the lives of the other 99 percent, but Walter is simply astounded — as when he discovers that it is possible to have pizza delivered to your house (he would ordinarily just send the helicopter to get it).

So Becky’s New Car offers an entertaining evening, a feel-good play for the holiday season, and, as usual, the Ridgefield Theater Barn — in this case smoothly directed by Sherry Asch — gives it great mileage.

(Performances continue weekends until December 7, with shows Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 and Sunday afternoons at 2.

Tickets are $24 adults, $20 students and seniors, and can be ordered online at RidgefieldTheaterBarn.org. The theater is at 31 Halpin Lane. Call 203-431-9850 for additional information.)

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