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Theater review: 'Becky's New Car' at Pacific Resident Theatre

July 15, 2010 |  7:15 pm

400.becky1_300dpi Felicitous wit and existential ache drive "Becky's New Car" in its Southern California premiere.  Steven Dietz's comedy of manners speeds by on plucky charm, as director Michael Rothhaar's well-oiled Pacific Resident Theatre mounting demonstrates.

Commissioned in 2008 by A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle, "New Car" follows perky Becky Foster (the wonderful Joanna Daniels). This working mom ignores the fourth wall, inviting us in to the split-focus living room/auto dealership office of designer William Wilday's effective set.

 Joe (stalwart Jon Eric Preston), Becky's husband, accepted ennui years ago. Chris (Nick Rogers), their self-entitled psychology major son, won't leave home.  Steve (a riotous Christopher Shaw), Becky's coworker, welds widower's malaise to enervated ambition.  No wonder Becky prefers driving.

Working late one night, Becky meets millionaire widower Walter Flood (the terrific Brad Greenquist). He mistakenly infers that Becky is a widow -- and she doesn't correct him.  Her subsequent forays into Walter's milieu steer this hybrid screwball-romantic vehicle, picking up Walter's daughter, Kenni (Jules Willcox), and strapped heiress Ginger (ever-acerbic Suzanne Ford).

The sleek dialogue and pert theatricality are vintage Dietz. Daniels, the play's internal combustion engine, is delightful, whether changing her Audrey Eisner-designed costumes onstage with audience aid or offering us a Sprite. Her colleagues are uniformly solid, as are the designers, Wilday's lighting and Keith Stevenson's sound adroitly negotiating the hairpin turns.

Such expertise almost conceals how Dietz must drop the magic realism of Act 1 and conventionally bend his ethos to resolve things (though the finale is Preston's finest hour).  Still, "Becky's New Car" may lack rear-end alignment, but it's a smoothly enjoyable ride, regardless.

-- David C. Nichols

"Becky's New Car," Pacific Resident Theatre, 703-707 Venice Blvd., Venice. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 15. $20-$25. (310) 822-8392. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo: Joanna Daniels. Photo credit: J. J. Jetel.

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