Live theater has the uncanny ability to transport us. Which is not only to say that the audience is given rare glimpses into, say, Hamlet’s Denmark, the France of Le Miz or Eliza Doolittle’s London, but that as we sit in the dark we are taken out of ourselves, an ineffable experience that allows us to share the thoughts, yearnings and feelings of those characters upon the stage. This is a type of virtual reality that stirs our deeper selves and one that technology has never improved upon.
But that leaves the question: what happens when the characters onstage just want to get away? That’s precisely the conundrum posed in “Becky’s New Car” which is both the smart comedy now being performed at Warren’s 2nd Story Theatre, and the perfect vehicle for this sort of flight of fancy.
This is the type of show that provokes thought even as it tickles the funny bone. Our Heroine Becky is more typical than archetype, a very relatable working mom, juggling the ever-multiplying challenges of work, home and family, overwhelmed and feeling unappreciated and a little humdrum. As a middle-aged woman in the midst of a mid-life crisis she muses that “when a woman says she wants a new car, what she really wants is a new life.” Her new car is her own autonomy.
That possibility presents itself in the form of a well-to-do widower who offers the possibility of new and exciting romance. And the idea of an exciting illicit affair and a break from the fairly happy but routine rut of her life is an irresistible urge that creates yet another unwieldy situation she must keep juggling aloft like the rest of her life.
Moral and romantic dilemmas, as Shakespeare and Moliere knew full well, form the basis of comedy. Playwright Steven Dietz’s comedic take on Becky’s crisis wittily examines the maddening ambiguities of her modern life and of Becky’s ethical situation, all while exposing another truth for us in the audience.
Dramatic fiction seeks to present the truth of a given situation; and this play acknowledges, often hilariously, the reality of the moment: that we are in fact sitting in a building called a theater, watching and listening to actors telling us a story. To that end “Becky’s New Car” gleefully bends and breaks the rules of stagecraft and the accepted pretense of dramatic convention.
You see; Becky knows that you are in the building and watching her life unfold and sometimes unravel. She directly addresses her audience, seeks your advice and even enlists audience members to come onstage and assist her in certain tasks (don’t worry, it ain’t mandatory). It’s a lot of fun, but no cheap gimmick as playwright Dietz’s deconstruction of the imaginary ‘fourth wall’ between actors and audience becomes a celebration of the deeply collaborative nature of live theatre: you in the audience complete the circle and become the final and necessary members of the cast.
Deitz’s comedic inventions don’t end there. As with any classic stage comedy regarding romantic complications and mistaken identity, Becky’s very real trials and tribulations become the stuff of farce. Complications and coincidences not only ensue but multiply, naturally enough, as Becky struggles to juggle all the disparate components of her life. The situation is akin to the fifth act found in many a comedy of Classical literature. But here the tangled webs she weaves, though wildly hilarious, are sometimes capable of teetering on tragedy. Truth will always come out and to that end this play is purposefully preposterous.
I must confess a bias. I’m breaking that fourth wall here too: I play a small role in this show as Becky’s manic pal. But you don’t have to share the stage with her to love and appreciate the acting of Margaret Melozzi, who shines brightly as Becky.
A familiar and welcome face to Rhode Island audiences, Ms. Melozzi, a Tiverton resident and Trinity Rep Conservatory graduate, has been seen on many local stages. She last graced the 2nd Story stage in “The Divine Sister” and earlier this season was very good in The Gamm’s “Good People.” I spoke to her a bit about what it’s like to drive Becky’s wild ride.
“I know it’s real”, she said. “I think it’s funny and I’m certain it’s unlike anything audiences typically experience. What I love is that everybody gets to take a ride in ‘Becky’s New Car’ — Becky, for sure, her family and friends and definitely the audience. Like any good road trip you come out different than when you went in. I hope. And I think that’s why we all get together in the dark to do and see plays.”
That hope expressed by Ms. Melozzi is well fulfilled by her onstage presence and then some. Dietz penned a great play but one that requires a very funny and fully realized woman onstage to sit behind the wheel and put pedal to the metal. Margaret Melozzi seems indefatigable in her frenetic onstage efforts and she makes Becky’s follies and foibles furiously funny precisely because her needs and yearnings are absolutely real and utterly relatable. We can’t help but love her.
“You always fall in love with your character”, says Ms. Melozzi, “you have to love them to play them. But with Becky I felt a connection with her from the minute I met her on the page. I feel like I know her. I understand her and in some ways, I am her. I think its her humor, her vulnerability, her restlessness, her search joy in life and her desire not to settle.”
Judging from the roar of laughter I hear from my vantage point in the rear seat of this vehicle the audiences are having a lot of fun. Steve Dietz’s comedy “Becky’s New Car” presents onstage the ride of life, with many precarious twists and hairpin turns of inspired hilarity. Sometimes on the road of life we find that we’ve come full circle; the point and the pleasure is to enjoy the journey. I think you will.
“Becky’s New Car” at 2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market Street, Warren, now through June 1. See listings for details.