Preface: Okay, let's see-- awhile back when I was bitching about a certain critic, I was noting the importance of full disclosure in theatre reviews. On that note, please realize that you are about to read a snap-happy review of Becky's New Car starring Lauren Lane. While I have not yet had the pleasure of bedding Ms. Lane, we did share a stage for two years in the Dick Monologues at the Hyde Park Theatre. A couple of times, DM played in the ZACH Annex. So I guess that's another connection. Barbara Chisholm helped me book ZACH for my show, and I have to say she's the target of another of my lady crushes, and she was in the audience at Becky's, so perhaps that flavors my positivity, too. Oh, and the play was written and directed by Steven Dietz, who lives in Austin, which is my favorite city in the world. So there's that. You may factor these things into what I am now going to tell you which, cutting to the chase, is this:
GO SEE BECKY'S NEW CAR!
I have said, probably more than once, that Lauren Lane could read the phone book in a faux French accent and I would swoon. I mean, she has more talent in one single raised eyebrow than most people have in their entire extended family. Fortunately, thanks to this bottomless wealth of thespian genius she possesses, she is not ever (that I know of) relegated to reciting phone numbers. Dietz's play, like the others I've seen Lauren in, is quite delicious. It's very, very funny, but not comedy for comedy's sake. See, it makes you think. On the other hand, it doesn't exist simply as a means for the playwright to flex his literary muscle and show us how smart he is. Instead, we get a very fine balance of laugh-think-laugh-think-laugh that carries through from start til finish.
My abhorrence of spoilers means I can never really delve too far into plot. I think even mere hints can take away from your experience. But here are some clues: Becky's New Car, without ever being derivative, has the faintest echo of It's a Wonderful Life, an odd hint of Ghost (and really, I mean that in a good way), and that bit in the Velveteen Rabbit where the question is raised: What is real?
Let's just say that Lane, as Becky, is a bit stuck in her life when she stumbles into what seems like it might be an opportunity to spice things up. But choosing what's behind Door #2 means having to let go of what she already chose behind Door #1 years before. And then-- I'm happy to report there's a Door #3, which I was extremely grateful for. That's my way of saying that, as a writer who tries to out-guess writers as a show/book/movie is happening, I found myself pleasantly fooled by Dietz's writing. I thought for sure I knew where he was going. I was wrong.
What else to tell you? Oh, I think it's okay to reveal something of a Charlie Kaufman essence-- again, not derivative. But you know how CK immerses himself in so much meta? (Aside: which I admired until that fucking nightmare of a film-- the one Warren refers to as Dis-Connected-Y and which I hated so much I refuse to even look up the spelling of.) Well there is definitely no fourth wall in Becky's New Car, a technique Dietz uses to tremendous effect.
As this isn't a one woman show, I'd be remiss in not telling you about the other actors. HOLY FABULOUSNESS BATMAN-- if I were on a reality show that involved me having to select an actor who, by his/her merits, would help me survive a weekend at the Jersey Shore wearing clothes I made myself while being chased around by sextuplets, I'd be hard pressed to select which cast member of Becky's New Car to choose. (Well, okay, we all know my lady crush would have me picking LL in the end, so let's exclude her from this competition). Everyone in the cast, I mean E V E R Y O N E pulled her/his weight and then some. I never had to suspend my disbelief because the performances are so strong you believe from the moment each actor the stage.
We've got Chris Gibson in the role of Joe Foster, Becky's husband, and Josh Meyer playing their son, Chris. Getting back to what I was saying earlier about Dietz's makes-you-laugh-and-makes-you-think thing-- both Gibson and Meyer clearly understood Dietz's vision (oh, btw, he also directed the show). Not just funny guys, both deliver really nuanced performances. There's something in particular about Gibson's acting that mesmerized me.
Ben Prager, as Steve, gets to take on the tremendously fun role of the resident neurotic, the eco-fanatical buzz kill who never understands why the rest of the world isn't as interested in his enthusiastic embrace of whatever, in the moment, he is enthusiastically embracing.
Lucien Douglas and Sydney Andrews play father/daughter Walter and Kenni Flood. The latter has the straightest role in the play, a task she pulls off nicely. As for Douglas-- where did this man come from and can I book him for my next party? In particular, there's a scene between Walter Flood and Joe Foster involving cell phones that is so pant wettingly funny it was hard to suppress my laughter long enough to catch their rapid fire exchange.
Rounding out the crew is Babs George in the role of Ginger, a character that could have quite easily gone the way of a mere two-dimensions. I really appreciated Dietz willingness to infuse her with depth, and George's ability to bring real meat to the role. Really splendid.
A few plot points get pushed forward through telling rather than showing, but that's not a complaint so much as an observation. There's plenty of action here, and with the show weighing in at around two hours, anything more would've been overkill. As it stands, the time flies by, with more than a few great twists to keep things really, really interesting. Kudos to the behind-the-scenes folks, too, for all the great details like the big billboards on the walls and Chris Foster's apparently different length seventies tube socks.
Becky's New Car runs through July 11 at ZACH Theatre. Seriously-- go see it.