A little bit Woody Allen, a little bit Blake Edwards, a dash of Neil Simon, Steven Dietz’s play Becky’s New Car strikes a gentle humor on middle age and the meaning of life in the Hippodrome’s charming production. There is something both nostalgic and also neo in this production. It will feel familiar, warm, touching, but most of all, funny. The audience, acting as a fly-on-the-wall, are often directly engaged through clever fourth-wall breaks that serve to connect and endear them to our protagonist.
It is said humor is the hardest to play well, but because both the writing and the cast is so remarkably good, they sure do make it look easy and natural. Nichole Hamilton shines as Becky, whose dead-end job in a car dealership is truly her road to nowhere. Becky's lack-luster but smart and good-nature husband (a terrific HIPP debut by actor Adam Lishawa) is the kind of guy that loves his routine. If these two have sex, it’s not an act of passion, it’s a function, like eating lunch. And maybe this dysfunctional family would be just fine settling in to the mediocrity of the day, but damned if a socially awkward grief-stricken millionaire doesn’t walk in to the dealership to buy a whole bunch of cars, cash on the barrel. His wife has recently passed on to greater glory, and because words we say sometimes come out with their own ideas of meaning and syntax, Becky accidentally(?) gives him the impression her husband is also dead—which in a way, he is to her. Something like love and lust and risk and adventure results, several unexpected dips in the road, a possum or two, speed humps, turn-arounds, those roads you go down that lead you further and further into the opposite direction you intended, and our tender friendly hilarious persiflage-farce also finds some moments of depth, solace, contemplation, and ultimately redemption.
The cast in this show is top notch with stellar turns by Niall McGinty as Becky’s pizza-and-pushups Socratic son, the great Bryan Mercer as Becky’s comically beleaguered frantic co-worker, Chelsi Stancil as Walter Flood’s stunning fiercely protective daughter, and HIPP stalwart Catherine Fries Vaughn [WELCOME BACK, WE MISSED YOU!] as a darling booze-soaked socialite complication. But the heart of the play is Gregg Jones, returning to the Hippodrome stage after completing more than a tenure of legendary theatre instruction at Santa Fe College. Jones brings dopey, innocent, suave and sublime qualities to Walter Flood, a character who could have been played as simply a groping sexual scumbag. Somehow, and maybe with some apology, that’s more along the lines of what Becky seems to be exploring. We cannot say she’s at all innocent or even necessarily justified in throwing her husband under the proverbial Cadillac. But somehow Hamilton manages to ultimately make us love her, root for her, empathize, and understand her. Hamilton takes our character to states of audacious complexity. Becky’s final drive down the highway is a moment of heart-wrenching and poignant satisfaction.
Superb clean clear direction by (David Shelton), lighting design (Robin P. Robbins), sound (Amanda Yanes), a richly detailed set by (Timothy J. Dygert), and pitch-perfect costumes (Jennifer Smith) round out one of the funniest and smartest plays staged at the Hippodrome in recent memory. Do yourself a favor, and take a ride in Becky’s New Car.
Mad props to the unsung heroes behind the scenes: Stage Management (Lizzi Nehls), Costume Design Consultant (Marilyn A. Wall), Technical Director (Michael A. Eaddy), and Properties (again, Timothy J. Dygert), Artistic Director Warhol Caldwell, and Managing Director Jessica Hurov, among many others.
Please remember: Don’t unwrap your lozenge during the quiet parts!
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