‘Becky’s new car’ a hilarious journey through mid-life
By MARILYN JOZWIK
Published Nov. 10, 2018
Forge Theater’s presentation of “Becky’s New Car” is just one or two mediocre performances from tipping from a comedy with notes of poignancy to a poignant show with notes of comedy.
The expert Forge cast, under the direction of Jake Brockmann, makes the audience understand the angst of a middle-life crisis while applying a deft and nuanced hand for the comedy, which goes down as easily as a hot toddy on a winter’s day.
Steven Dietz’s show is tightly focused. Becky (Amy Hansmann) is middle- aged – wife to Joe (Robert WC Kennedy), a roofer by trade, and mother to Chris (Jason Nykiel), a psychology student living in his parents’ basement. Becky is cleaning up Chris’ messes as the show opens, explaining, “My son was loaded, but my dishwasher was not.” When she confronts him about doing something with his life, he resorts to psycho-babble, as he often does, saying, “When will I self-conceptualize?”
These early scenes provide a taste of Hansmann’s handle on Dietz’s humor and wit and how well she inhabits her character. We’re sold on her Becky from the moment she tosses a roll of toilet paper at an audience member while cleaning up, telling her to “put that in the bathroom.” It was one of several most effective moments in which the characters brought the audience into their homes or office.
The writer Dietz gives us a not-so-subtle hint early on about the show’s theme, when Becky, who works as an office manager at a car dealership, likens a new car to a new life.
At the dealership, Becky meets customer Walter (Joe Krapf), a sweet, recently widowed millionaire who believes Becky’s spouse has also died. Before Becky can correct the mistake, she’s been invited to his lake home for a party. To her own surprise, she accepts.
Shortly after, a work situation has allowed her to be away from home without her doting, dutiful husband suspecting a thing while she enjoys a fling with Walter. For a time. But in the perfect coincidental world of theater, all the characters intersect – including Walter’s daughter, Kensington.
The comfortable, intimate space at Urban Harvest Brewing Co. is a perfect venue for this show in which the characters, like hospitable hosts, invite the audience into their lives.
Hansmann takes the lead with a whole toolbox of acting skills as she rambles through Becky’s life that seems to be stuck in neutral. Becky works too hard at work, only to come home to more work. Hansmann captures Becky’s frustration with body language and a whole host of expressions, moving purposefully between home and office, but looking tentative when she’s in Walter’s milieu. When she takes the wheel of her new car, her face converts from confusion to peace – a look of utter calm – as she says of the auto, “It enveloped me like a cult.” It is a marvelous, crowd-pleased performance that gets a fleet of laughs.
Hansmann is surrounded by a first-rate cast, including Kennedy and Nykiel as her husband and son. Kennedy wears Joe like an old, favorite sweater, comfortable with his life, family, routine. His Joe is a rock of stability, which makes the audience root for this family to stay together for his sake.
Nykiel is likeable as the freeloading son. His Chris is charming, and quick with a comeback. His conversations with Becky are so relatable.
This ensemble cast is really in-tune with each other. Krapf’s Walter is immediately engaging as he meets Becky at the dealership. It is a tricky scene in which Walter simply never allows Becky to explain her marital situation.
As Becky’s co-worker, Steve, Joe Nettesheim grew on me. His character seemed stilted and calculated at first, until I realized he was just being the slightly neurotic Steve. I loved how he delivered the line, ““I’m not good at small talk. I’m not used to making my conversation small enough.”
Cara Johnston as Chris’s girlfriend, Kenni, has the right look and demeanor for Walter’s daughter, who is showered with gifts. After Walter gives her a loft for her birthday, he asks her, “Do you paint? Isn’t that what they do in lofts?” Johnston, too, has a good handle on the comedy and irony in the show. She explains with subtle comic timing that her ex-beau is “in Nantucket or Barbados. It depends on the winds.”
As Walter’s friend, Ginger, Pam Scheferman gives her character lots of attitude and snark. She adds a dismissive tone as she talks of Walter’s dead wife, calling her “as shallow as a cookie sheet.”
There is lots to love in this show – from its well-drawn characters wonderfully presented to its mid-life crisis theme – all creating an enjoyable evening of theater.
If you go
Who: Forge Theater
What: “Becky’s New Car”
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 10
Where: Urban Harvest Brewing Company, 1024 S. 5th St., Milwaukee