Stephen Dietz's heroine Becky Foster doesn't have a half-bad life; it has just become predictable and mundane. She has a solid yet dull marriage to her roofer hubby Joe. Together they have a son: a goofy college psychology major named Chris. Becky overly devotes herself to a decent job with a car dealership. However, her day-to-day routine is flipped upside down when Walter Flood, a charmingly quirky millionaire, comes into the dealership late one night. Walter, desperate and socially awkward, assumes that Becky’s spouse is deceased like his, and Becky, utterly baffled and taken by his charm, does not correct him. Becky gets swept up in the romanticism of Walter’s world and starts leading a double life. A convenient job promotion, closer to where Walter lives, allows her to spend the majority of her time with him, and only head home on weekends. Slowly, but surely she starts to assimilate into Walter’s posh lifestyle. Becky's dual existence starts to unravel quickly, what with Becky's paranoid and nosy co-worker Steve's suspicions and the fact that Walter’s daughter Kenni and Becky’s son Chris start dating. In a chaotic series of events, this fairytale romance meets reality in an unpredictable, but decidedly happy, ending.
Recommended for adult audiences.
BEHIND THE SCENES
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INTERVIEW WITH THE PLAYWRIGHT
Recently, our Literary Manager/Artistic Associate Stephanie Mulligan interviewed playwright Steven Dietz about Becky’s New Car. Stephanie Mulligan: Becky’s New Car was commissioned as a birthday present from a husband to a wife. Were there any parameters given in regards to the subject matter of the play?
Steven Dietz: There were no parameters. Though there were discussions with Kurt Beattie (the Artistic Director of ACT – the commissioning theatre) that it would be a great challenge to write an ensemble comedy. Which it was. SM:How do you feel about the age-old tradition of making art as a personal gift to one of its patrons? Have any of your previous plays been commissioned in this way?
SD: This was a first for me and I loved it. It was a leap of faith on the part of the patron – Charlie Staadecker – and it was, I believe, a way for him to make a direct impact in the creation of new work. Again, since there were no parameters given, it was not terribly different for me than a traditional commission – however I gained an “instant advocate” in the person of Charlie and his wife, Benita, who the play was gifted to.
SM: With the current economic situation, the portrayal of extraordinarily wealthy and somewhat frivolous men like Walter Flood could be received more gravely than intended. How present was the theme of economic stability when you were writing the play?
SD: Though the first draft of the play was written pretty quickly – over a summer – I was not able to write as fast as the economy was able to fall into an abyss. The current financial climate probably gives even more empathy to Becky and Joe, but I don’t think it affects our perception of Walter too much (I could be wrong here). He’s a man who has lost his wife. Loss is loss — however nice your shoes are.
SM: It’s always tricky to write in audience participation, just because you never know how cooperative they may be. What was the motivation for bringing the audience so closely into this piece? Does their participation make them complicit in Becky’s deception?
SD: That was exactly the intent: some manner of audience complicity. I wanted to have Becky literally take them on this journey, and the most direct was I could think of was to have them literally be her confidants and helpers. I also didn’t want to “shame” or “make fun of” audience members like I’ve seen other “acts” do. I wanted this to be fun for them, too. Finally, of course, all credit goes to the actress playing Becky – she’s the one doing the high-wire act with unsuspecting audience members while I’m sitting safely in the back of the theatre, hiding.
SM: There have been times in the rehearsal hall when I’ve been reminded of great scenes from I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners. Who were some of your early comedy influences?
SD: Everyone from Charlie Chaplin through Lucille Ball to Steve Martin and Woody Allen. In the end, however, your influences will only get you to the doorstep: you have to step over and come up with the goods on your own. And when it comes to comedy, we are all serving a lifelong apprenticeship.
SM: In Act II where she can ‘barely keep up’ with the play itself, we infer almost a lack of agency on Becky’s part. Was this intentional?
SD: Yes – I wanted the play, which Becky seems to have been in charge of, to spin out of her control ... just like her life.
SM: Walter says “Life is chaos and holidays.” I adore that line- care to expand on that thought?
SD: Nope. When I add more words, it gets worse. I’ll just leave it at that and say thanks for the compliment.
SM: Steven, what are you working on now?
SD: I’m revising a Steppenwolf commission (working title: “Colorado Girl”); writing a new play for the Guthrie Theatre (“A Year Without Summer”); and adapting my second Dan Gutman baseball book - “Jackie and Me”.
In addition to Becky's New Car, Steven Dietz’s recent work includes the Pulitzer-nominated Last of the Boys, Honus and Me, and two additional newly-commissioned plays that will be produced in the coming year: City of Ghosts, and Near Aberdeen. Dietz is also currently at work on new plays commissioned by the Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis) and the Denver Center Theatre Company. Dietz is a two-time winner of the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award. These awards were for Fiction (produced Off-Broadway by the Roundabout Theatre Company) and Still Life with Iris. He received the PEN USA West Award in Drama for Lonely Planet; the 2007 Edgar Award for Drama from the Mystery Writer's of America for his widely-produced Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure; and the 1995 Yomuiri Shimbun Award (the Japanese "Tony") for his adaptation of Shusaku Endo's novel Silence. Other widely produced plays include Inventing Van Gogh, God's Country, Private Eyes, The Nina Variations, Trust, Rocket Man, Halcyon Days, Ten November, Foolin' Around with Infinity and More Fun than Bowling. Award-winning stage adaptations include Force of Nature (from Goethe), Over the Moon (from P.G. Wodehouse), The Rememberer (from Joyce Simmons Cheeka), Paragon Springs (from Ibsen), Dracula (from Bram Stoker), and, with Allison Gregory, Go, Dog. Go! (from P.D. Eastman). Dietz spends the academic year writing and teaching in Austin, Texas at the University of Texas.
Becky's New Car had its World Premiere at ACT Theatre in Seattle, opening on October 23, 2008. It was commissioned as part of New Works for the American Theatre, through which anybody can underwrite a new play as a gift to someone. The practice of arts patrons funding new works in tribute to friends or lovers was commonplace in Shakespeare's or Mozart's day, but rarely happens today. Dietz was commissioned by an ACT board member to write a play in honor of his wife, Benita Staadecker. The production was received very positively by both audiences and critics.
This is the third production of the play.
OPAD Consulting/Harold Goldstein
Wendy & Dick Rahm
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