Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Marinette troupe’s ‘Becky’s New Car’ quirky, comical

Critic At Large
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MARINETTE, Wis. (WFRV) – Becky’s new car is a Lexus. Becky, the character, that is. “Becky’s New Car,” the play, is like the Johnny Cash song, “One Piece at a Time.” It’s made of this and that and is hybrid weird, something like the lyrics: “The transmission was a ’53, and the motor turned out to be a ’73, and when we tried to put in the bolts, all the holes were gone. So we drilled it out so that it would fit, and with a little bit of help from an adapter kit, we had that engine running just like a song.”

Playwright Steven Dietz writes by his own rules, with a result being Theatre on the Bay’s production of “Becky’s New Car” is strangely, comically, offbeat delightful.

Performances continue through Friday through Sunday, April 17-19, in Herbert L. Williams Theatre at the University of Wisconsin-Marinette. Info: http://marinette.uwc.edu/campus/arts/theatre.

***

Creative: Playwright – Steven Dietz; director – Rebecca Stone Thornberry; scenic and sound designer – John Thornberry; lighting designer – Lee Bunting; costume designer – Annalisa Mines.

Cast: Becky Foster – Hayley Maxwell; Joe Foster – Joshua Stuck; Walter Flood – John Thornberry; Chris Foster – Noah Steffen; Steve Singletary – Adam Schlacht; Kenni Flood – Katie Falk; Ginger/Mrs. Tipton – Betsy Stuck.

***

Played with zip by Hayley Maxwell, Becky Foster is riveting. Becky talks to the audience. She has interplay with audience members. Why Becky is doing either is not clear. She just does. Steven Dietz just does; he has a modified free-form approach to play making.

Becky seems to be speaking to the audience – someone – as a form of mid-life confessional. She’s been married 28 years. Her husband, Joe, a roofer, is pleasant and bland. Their son, Chris, is a live-at-home (it feels like forever) graduate student who speaks in tongues (the I-know-everything language of academia and expertise that comes with advanced education) and is useless in everyday life outside of his myopic sphere. Symbol alert: Becky speaks of getting a new car equating with dumping of a husband. Becky has lots of swanky new cars around; she works at a Lexus dealership in the office – not selling but with an opportunity to.

Stuff in “Becky’s New Car” is complex.

Complication No. 1: Becky can scene-shift at will. Sample: She’s at home and remembers she’s left her cell phone at the office. She orders the lighting person to light the office part of the set, so it seems she is there when she goes back to get the phone.

Complication No. 2: Relationships. One day at the office, a talkative rich widower, Walter Flood, drops in. He’s searching for gifts for his stellar staff. Walter presumes Becky (soon Rebecca to him) is a widow, and Becky can’t get a word in edgewise because Walter speaks so fast – and soon he’s on her like jam to toast, thinking She’s The One to replace his beloved deceased. Oh, Walter is so rich he buys nine Lexuses (Lexi?) for his staff, thus earning Becky a new Lexus of her own… and thus setting up the climax much later in this complication-stuffed play.

I think I watched this play mostly with my mouth open – you know, like, Duh, what? The play is a bunch of fun. Quirky as all get out, but fun.

Director Rebecca Stone Thornberry has a jolly good cast of campus and community players. Some of the actors play characters that are out of their age a bit, but that’s okay. Everybody’s quite likable.

Hayley Maxwell does wonders as Becky, whooshing through impossible situations with light-up-the-theater energy. John Thornberry, normally a behind-the-scenes guy (as in this production as scenic and sound designer) is holy-smokes-good as Walter.

Colorfully playing up their character’s quirks are Joshua Stuck as the too-nice husband, Noah Steffen as the perpetual-student son, Adam Schacht as an ecology-driven co-worker of Becky, Betsy Stuck as a boozy woman with Walter on her mind and as a figure who sets off the climax and Katie Falk as Walter’s sweet daughter and (another complication) Becky’s heartthrob.

“Becky’s New Car” is an unusual choice for Theatre on the Bay to put on, but it’s fresh to this area and refreshing to watch.

By the way, that play you’ve been meaning to write, go ahead and write it and don’t worry about The Laws of Playwriting. Steven Dietz didn’t worry much with “Becky’s New Car,” and it turned out to be interesting.

THE VENUE: The 362-seat Herbert L. Williams Theatre is located in the Fine Arts Building of the University of Wisconsin-Marinette. The facility was built in 1968. Central in the theater is a thrust stage, a half octagon that the audience surrounds. The theater includes brick walls on both sides of the stage and a white ceiling of half circles radiating from the stage, with the area above the stage exposed for the guts of the lighting grid. Three steps lead to the stage, which today bears the name The Nancy A. Gehrke Stage. The design of the stage was one of the first of its kind in the region. The theater feels spacious.

THE PEOPLE: Herbert L. Williams was professor of communication arts and artistic director of Theatre on the Bay. He retired after 30 years in May 1996 and continued to direct and perform in Green Bay and the Fox Cities. He may have directed more plays than anyone in the region. Herb Williams died March 19, 2014, in Green Bay at age 79. A memorial service was held last summer in Herbert L. Williams Theatre. Nancy A. Gehrke acted for 40 years on the stage named for her. Today, painting is a primary passion.

Because I review a broad range of performances, professional and amateur, and because of the tremendous range of production budgets, I have decided to forego putting star ratings on performances. You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air segments on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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