The seats at the Bangor Opera House have stayed in their traditional arrangement — a proscenium setup of parallel rows of seats facing the stage — for decades. In fact, no one Bari Newport has asked seems to remember anything different. So when she decided on including the contemporary play “Becky’s New Car” as part of the 2012-2013 season, she knew there’d be some changes to the layout. “Becky’s New Car,” a wacky, whimsical comedy written by Steven Dietz that opens at PTC this week, requires that kind of out-of-the-box thinking.
“This is a play that just would not work with the regular stage,” said Newport, Penobscot Theatre Company executive director and director of the production. “So when I talked with our set designer for the show, Lex Liang, who knows this stage better than almost anyone, we knew we had to change it around to suit the show.”
Liang designed a thrust stage that sticks more than 10 feet out into the audience, and production crew at the theater got to re-arranging the seating to surround the thrust. The effect is immediate — it’s a more intimate setup, bringing the audience right into the title character’s living room. And for all intents and purposes, the audience actually will be in Becky’s living room.
“It brings the audience right into the action,” said Newport. “It is interactive, even though it’s only a small part of it. It’s not like anything we’ve ever done here.”
The Becky in question is played by Stacey Scotte, a New York-based actress who brings the necessary energy to a character who, over the course of the play, experiences a life-changing series of events.
“Becky is an everywoman. She is a woman of a certain age and she’s going through what at one time might have been called a midlife crisis,” said Scotte. “She goes on a very interesting ride, and she doesn’t necessarily take into consideration the consequences. All the characters in this play have their foibles. I think people will relate. They’re all good people that are making some not-so-good decisions.”
Becky and her husband, the easygoing Joe (Ron Lisnet) have hit a bit of a stale patch in their marriage; their son, Chris (Brad LaBree), can’t sort his life out; her co-worker and friend Steve (Allen Adams) is a recent widower; and Becky herself is a bit bored with her job at a car dealership. Into the dealership walks eccentric billionaire Walter (Ken Stack) who throws everything in Becky’s life into further disarray when she lets him think she’s the one that has been recently widowed, and therefore single.
“It’s a series of events that tests them all,” said Newport. “It starts to all kind of fall apart in this very funny way, and even though she’s making some choices that are not great, it’s still extremely entertaining.”
All’s well that ends well, though, and “Becky’s,” if anything, is more of a farce than a soap opera. Lex Liang’s big, rambling set only adds to the wackiness going on onstage; characters appear here and there, up and down, on the couch in front or up on the catwalk in back. And yes, Becky herself does engage the audience in some gentle interactivity; if you’re sitting in the front few rows, you might be handed some papers or other random items. It’s a departure for PTC, but only in the sense that it’s a relatively recent play with a lot of contemporary, unorthodox humor.
“I think our audiences are going to be very pleasantly surprised by this play,” said Newport. “It’s a huge amount of fun. It’s really a play about ‘This is what happens when, and this is what could happen to you, if you’re not careful.’ There are no bad people, just people going through a crazy time in their lives. It just happens to be very funny.”
“Becky’s New Car” opens in previews at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the Bangor Opera House; the premiere is 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19. The show runs through Nov. 4. For tickets, visit penobscottheatre.org, or call the box office at 942-3333.