“When a woman says she wants a new car, she wants a new life.” Becky Foster, a middle class wife and mother grappling with middle-age self-worth, intriguingly heeds this opinion in Steven Dietz’s aptly titled 2008 comedy “Becky’s New Car,” the Human Race Theatre Company’s engaging if lightweight season opener fluidly directed by Marya Spring Cordes.
At the outset, Becky, delightfully portrayed by a very personable and relatable Margaret Knapp, warns the audience they might have issues with her likability. In other words, the woman brushing up on her housecleaning before heading to her office manager job at a car dealership will evolve in ways that could startle or be off-putting. And it is Becky’s honest, direct, conversational allure that keeps her on the audience’s side, especially when she decides to take a leap of faith that shakes her family’s foundation with hurtful repercussions. I’m not sure how many women would follow Becky’s example of disregarding their marriage when charmed by a rich widower, but Dietz’s clever decision to demolish the fourth wall allows the audience to at least sympathize with her humorous yet bothersome predicament. By allowing the audience to comment on the action and occasionally join Becky on stage, an unspoken bond is established that breeds understanding. Dietz could have planted more substantive fireworks in the mildly tedious Act 1, but there’s no denying the engrossing tension that occurs in the darker Act 2 when Becky’s deception is revealed forcing her to face the music.
Knapp, navigating a convincing sea of frustrated, perplexed emotions, receives stellar support from an authentic supporting cast. As Becky’s easygoing, hardworking husband Joe, David Sitler excellently crafts a journey firmly built on trust that is eventually replaced with heartache and pain with a pinch of vengeance. Wright State University alum Gregory Mallios is sharp and amiable as Becky and Joe’s son Chris, a grad student still determining his path no matter how smart he thinks he is. Michael Richey is hilariously aloof as wealthy Walter Flood, an older gentleman smitten with Becky but not completely over the loss of his wife. Thanks to Richey’s sweet, innocent demeanor it is entirely believable that Becky would turn her world upside down for Walter, who is so far removed from the middle class that he’s humorously astounded by the concept of pizza delivery. Human Race resident artist Patricia Linhart makes a welcomed, commanding return to the Loft Theatre stage as the jaded, privileged Ginger, Walter’s acerbic friend who longs to be useful while wishing she were the center of his attention. Jason Podplesky, adept at physical comedy, is a bundle of energy as Becky’s co-worker Steve Singletary. Leslie Goddard is lovely as Walter’s spoiled daughter Kensington who finds the man of her dreams in one of the play’s crafty twists.
In addition, Tamara L. Honesty’s wonderfully colorful, expansive and inspired set, expertly lit by John Rensel, astutely signifies the varying directions within Becky’s conflicted existence. Linhart and Goddard are particularly costumed in striking black cocktail dresses in Act 2 courtesy of Christie Peitzmeier.
Later this season, the Human Race will stage two fascinating plays that are more indicative of their pedigree: Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy” and Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities.” Until then, you’re encouraged to ride shotgun with Becky Foster. Hold on tight.
“Becky’s New Car” continues through Sept. 29 at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. and Tuesdays at 7 p.m. Act One: 53 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes. Tickets are $36-$40. There are also a limited number of $25 tickets available for each performance. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit online at www.humanracetheatre.org or www.ticketcenterstage.com.