That new car smell

Becky’s New Car serves as a pitch-perfect counterpoint to All My Sons, which is showing simultaneously at Artists Repertory Theatre.

Becky’s New Car serves as a pitch-perfect counterpoint to All My Sons, which is showing simultaneously at Artists Repertory Theatre. Written over a three-year period as a personal commission by Seattle-based playwright Steven Dietz, the play follows a middle-aged woman who, with the help of audience members, begins an affair.

Becky Foster (Marilyn Stacey) works in a car dealership. Her husband, Joe (Todd Van Voris), is a roofer. Their son, Chris (Rollie Walsh), is a 26-year-old psychology graduate student who lives in the basement. The family chitchat that the play opens with is natural, clever, funny and contemporary, revealing Dietz’s skill as a playwright. Talking to his parents about girls, for example, Chris protests that he needs more than “audiovisual stimulation” from a partner. “That’s what your iPhone is for, right?” Joe quips, setting the tone for the rest of the play. Like the best television—Becky’s New Car recalls I Love Lucy and The Office in equal measure—the show is self-aware and self-referential without succumbing to navel-gazing or overly cutesy dialogue.

Add in Becky’s neurotic boss, Steve (Michael Mendelson)—who hasn’t taken off his hiking boots since the tragic camping accident that killed his wife and often drops by Becky’s office and the Fosters’ house for impromptu grief counseling—and there’s enough material here for an entire season.

But Dietz isn’t content to coast on strong characters and his knack for dialog. Instead, he introduces a compelling plot that drives the play forward and explores crevices of a middle-aged woman’s psyche that are rarely displayed on stage. Wealthy widower Walter Flood (David Bodin) waltzes into Becky’s dealership and is instantly smitten with her, believing that she, too, has lost her partner. Through a series of misunderstandings and a job promotion, Becky is able to assume a double identity as Flood’s girlfriend, while maintaining her façade at home.

Things come undone quickly as the play reaches its climax, which features Becky having a very real midlife crisis in the luxury car, symbolizing another woman’s midlife crisis.

Becky’s New Car explores many things¬: marriage, death, family, forgiveness, redemption and, of course, the American fascination with the automobile. Dietz breaks the fourth wall routinely, forcing the audience to condone Becky’s adultery, and proves himself a master of surprise by delivering a number of unannounced twists and turns, veering sharply from the more obvious conclusions revealed earlier in the narrative. But Dietz’s masterstroke is endowing Becky with love. She narrowly avoids a selfish escape from her problems, choosing to confront them and put the people she loves above herself by submitting herself to their judgment.

Despite a few near missteps—Walter’s trust-funder daughter, Kenni (played by ever-likable Amaya Villaza), steps dangerously close to being a stereotype, as does depleted trust funder Ginger (Susan Coromel), who gets a crash course in feminist tropes from Becky—the play succeeds in being a rousing exploration of relationships, life and the nature of love and money.