BY MICHAELA MARX WHEATLEY
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Life tends to take us on detours and the occasional bumpy ride, but life for the middle-aged Becky Foster has become a version of the always-the-same commuter route.
That is, until one day when a socially inept and grief-stricken millionaire named Walter Flood stumbles into the car dealership where Becky works. Becky is offered the keys to a new life, and before she knows it, she hits the gas toward an unknown destination.
“Becky’s New Car,” a comedy by playwright Steven Dietz, opens Oct.12 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley and promises to bring audiences on a ride like no other, one that invites them to participate in the story in a special way.
Suzanne Kelman takes on the title role and prepares herself for Becky’s wild ride.
“Audiences should expect the unexpected,” Kelman said. “Without giving too much away, the play was written in way to give the audience a different type of theater experience. It uses some interesting devices to bring the audience deeper into her world to enable them to have a much more intimate experience of her personal journey,” she added.
In addition to its unusual structure, the origin of the play also has a unique a twist. The comedy was commissioned by a Seattle businessman as a 60th birthday present for his wife in 2008 through the ACT theater company. Dietz had free reign to do anything he wanted for the commission and the result is a funny and touching play that explores one woman’s close examination of her life.
Director Deana Duncan said she hit the jackpot with the cast she’s assembled, and that she’s proud to be able to pull from a pool of actors living and working on Whidbey Island.
“This cast is brilliant, I really lucked out,” Duncan said. “You know what they say, 96 percent of the director’s job is casting. Don’t get me wrong; they’ve worked me hard for the other 4 percent but, man, what a team.”
Becky is married, middle-aged and working at a car dealership. One night, a widowed, millionaire customer presents her with an opportunity to step into another life — she takes it. However, in her excitement Becky “forgets” to mention that her husband is still alive, and gets swept up in a double life out of her hunger for change. She follows a detour hoping to find the way to her own happiness.
To Kelman, the story is relatable to audiences everywhere, which may be part of its appeal.
“When I first read this play I thought, ‘I know this story. I know this character,’ Kelman said. “But the longer I let the story and character work on me, and the longer we looked at the deeper themes of the play, it became very obvious that this isn’t just a straight comedy. Yes it’s funny, and there are some great characters, but it has some very poignant parts,” she said.
Kelman said that Becky makes some interesting choices that were hard for her to understand, and that she’s had to work through some stuff that the character is going through. She’s after clarity, and her goal is to give audiences the key to understanding the complexity of Becky, she said.
Kelman, who is British, said taking on this role of the “American Everywoman” was a fun experience for her.
“I believe I am the first British person to play Becky, but what attracted me to the role was the unusual way the play was written.”
The play, she said, taught her that there are always new and interesting ways to tell story, not to be afraid to tell them and that some stories are more intricate than they appear.
“Becky ‘the character’ has taught me that life isn’t always so black and white; sometimes we make choices and there is no real, clear resolution to the problem,” Kelman said. “Sometimes we just have to go on the journey and be OK with the fact that there are areas of our life that may not find resolution, and that’s OK,” she added.
The cast also includes Tom Harris as Joe; Jeff Riggs as Chris; Phil Jordan as Walter; Athena Michaelides as Kenni; Patricia Duff as Ginger; and Eric Mulholland as Steve.
“Becky’s new Car” runs through Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and at 2 p.m. on Sundays.
Tickets cost $22 for adults, $18 for senior/military, $15 for youths. All Sunday matinée seats are $16. Call 360-221-8268 for tickets or visit www.wicaonline.com.
At top, Suzanne Kelman as Becky Foster takes a ride. (Jim Carroll photo for WICA)
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