Theater review by Misha Berson: Seattle's ACT Theatre is premiering "Becky's New Car," playwright Steven Dietz's new comedy about a middle-class wife and mom caught up in a flirtation with a rich widower; playing at ACT Oct. 17-Nov. 16, 2008

Theater Review |

As the new stage comedy “Becky’s New Car” revs up, life is not going so badly for Becky Foster.

Well, not bad but not great. Her late-bloomer adult son has yet to leave the nest. Her desk job at a car dealership can be a grind. And while Becky loves her sweet-natured roofer husband, even a long, happy marriage can get a little stale.

So when a wealthy, lonesome widower turns up at the auto showroom after hours, Becky is nursing just enough midlife discontent to enjoy his bumbling, flattering advances. And she lets him believe her very much alive spouse is recently deceased.

On this classic mistaken-identity premise, playwright Steven Dietz has constructed a warmly humorous and nimble romantic farce that doesn’t oversell itself, or ever sell its American Everywoman protagonist short.

ACT Theatre’s world premiere of “Becky’s New Car,” very adeptly staged by Kurt Beattie on a charming pop-up book of a set by William Bloodgood, has Dietz’s sturdy comic vehicle running on all cylinders.

That’s so from the moment Kimberly King’s Becky welcomes us into her messy living room — and, as she chattily tidies up, offers an ACT patron a can of soda.

It won’t be the last beverage a performer offers an audience member. A prolific dramatist (and part-time Seattle resident), Dietz likes to manipulate theatrical time and space in his scripts, and broach the “fourth wall” that allegedly divides theater from reality.

In some Dietz plays this proclivity can be gimmicky, almost clinical. Not here.

Though scattered with jests about the suspension of disbelief, “Becky’s New Car” makes you believe in its genial consideration of loves lost and found, midlife and middle-class ennui and American car lust.

Mainly, the play whirs along on the strength of its likable and none-too-predictable characters — portrayed by a high-octane crew of Seattle actors, well-clad by Catherine Hunt and smartly lit by Rick Paulsen.

In a role that might befit a Silver Screen screwball comedy star like Claudette Colbert or Jean Arthur, King is an instantly lovable, mirthfully reactive and often-flustered Becky. She tries to create emotional “boundaries” — as her theory-spouting psychology-major son Chris (delightful Benjamin Harris) might put it. But Becky is essentially a very soft touch.

Needing a shoulder to cry on, her self-pitying nebbish of a co-worker, Steve (hilarious R. Hamilton Wright) always makes a beeline to her. And eccentric millionaire Walter Flood (the invaluable Michael Winters) is quickly drawn to her simpatico nature.

You can’t help rooting for Becky, even as she deceives her adoring hubby Joe (the expertly deadpan Charles Leggett) to sneak into Walter’s privileged world. King’s entrance into that arena, clutching a bottle of spring water like a security blanket, is a funny and touching Cinderella moment.

“Becky’s New Car” bypasses a more provocative clash of economic classes and all but ignores the current financial crisis (which has devastated American car dealers). But it doesn’t romanticize the rich anymore than it does Joe the Roofer.

Ginger, a broke and acerbic heiress (Suzanne Bouchard, who can turn the line “I don’t hike” into a position paper), represents the downside of inherited wealth. And Walter’s pampered daughter Kenni (the sketchiest character, played by Anna-Lisa Carlson) is fed up with airhead playboys.

Dietz deftly interconnects everyone, and equips each with pitch-perfect wit. And inevitably, he resolves various plot lines with an orgy of unmasking and confrontation contrivances endemic to farce.

But by then, “Becky’s Car” has registered as a satisfying comedy of modern manners. And one that derives as much power from its humanity as its fine-tuned craftsmanship.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com