I knew I was going to enjoy Penobscot Theatre’s production of “Becky’s New Car” right from the opening scene, when a harried, middle-aged woman wielding a DustBuster passes a roll of toilet paper to someone in the front row.
“Could you hang on to this for me? Thanks!”
This is the first of many times that the character of Becky Foster enlists help or validation from the audience as she navigates a comically complicated midlife crisis. Foster, dreaming of something bigger than her mundane existence, lives with her unflappably solid roofer husband and feckless 26-year-old son. She is working late one evening at a car dealership when a wealthy billboard tycoon enters her life. Through a series of farcical misunderstandings, Foster finds herself, almost accidentally, driving down the road toward infidelity.
The script, by award-winning playwright Steven Dietz, is a well-balanced mixture of the familiar and the unexpected, adding a nice touch of suspense to the unfolding and unraveling of Foster’s predicament, which takes a few unexpected and hilarious turns. Regardless of whether they approved of the characters’ decisions, the audience was audibly invested in the outcome of their story. The audience laughed, they made conversational replies when addressed by the actors, and in one particular moment, they gave a great group murmur of disappointment.
Audience engagement was enormously enhanced by a new layout in the theater, which invites a more intimate connection between performer and viewer. The stage has been extended far into the house, with banks of seats arranged on three sides of the thrust stage. A semicircle of front row seats is so close to the action that the audience can almost rest their feet on the living room floor of the Foster home. In fact, if you sit up front, be prepared to take on some of Foster’s paperwork, help her dress for a night out, or share a beer with her husband.
Stacey Scotte, who plays the part of Foster, takes command of the stage beautifully. Her movements between the fixed stage settings of home, office, car and weekend retreat contributed enormously to the natural flow of the action. Ron Lisnet is another standout as Foster’s husband, Joe. Lisnet’s performance imbues the amusing, steadfast roofer husband with a powerful and moving depth of character, especially in the second half of the show. There was not a weak link anywhere in the rest of the ensemble cast, all of whom garnered laughs time and again with impeccable timing and delivery.
Theatergoers were on their feet after the show, delighted by laughter and terrific acting. PTC’s presentation of “Becky’s New Car” is great entertainment. It also contains some intriguing food for thought, which is another key ingredient to successful art. I have to wonder how the audience response might differ if the straying spouse were the husband rather than the wife. Would the audience murmur in the same way? Go see the show, laugh, enjoy it. Then see what you think.
“Becky’s New Car” plays through Nov. 4 at the historic Bangor Opera House. Performances run Wednesdays through Sundays.
Robin Clifford Wood is a freelance writer and columnist for the Bangor Daily News.