by Steven Dietz
Directed by Gil Lazier
Banyan Theater Company
Jane B. Cook Theatre at FSU Center for the Performing Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota, 941-351-2808
June 30 through July 17, 2011

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

There's a lot for everyone to like in Becky's New Car, especially the superb way that Banyan Theater Company and director Gil Lazier roll it off their assembly line. Heroine Becky (Geraldine Librandi, charming and energetic, if a bit on the edge) immediately brings us -- by making us actually participate -- into her hectic home, family, and business life.  (There's limited, mostly quite justifiable audience involvement.) Just when we think she'll continue her narrative, punctuated by dramatized scenes as "plays" seem to so often do these days, we meet her roofer husband Joe (in Don Walker's wonderfully good, normal, accepting portrayal) and son, live-at-home 26 year-old, hooked-on-Freud graduate psychology student (Jessie Dornan, adept at Chris' self-justification and psychobabble). One's loveable but unexciting, the other a loveable pain to Becky. It looks like we've progressed to a sitcom, with Becky fretting over a husband who might care more about money and fixing their own roof, and a son who should be getting close to a career and a girl. Then there's her overtime work at a car dealership where she has to listen to her irritating salesman friend Steve (Robert D. Mowry, great at pining, fluster, timing) who's upset about boss, sales, and going on without his recently deceased wife.
Becky's already told us she agrees with a friend that when a woman says she needs a new house,  that means a new husband. "And when she says she wants a new car, she wants a new life." We get to pursue the idea of a mid-life crisis with Becky in a move to true romantic comedy, when she shows how into her office where she was working late came billboard business heir Walter (handsome, demonstrative Peter Thomasson). Though a sophisticated opposite of Joe, Walter is emotionally a bit of a mess, just as he's also distraught without the aid of his late wife who handled all his social affairs and personal obligations to employees. When Becky helps him choose new cars as gifts, she not only earns herself promise of a new car but is wooed lavishly by Walter. Their romantic scenes together are very funny. Becky's attempt to mingle with his level-headed daughter Kensington (winning Rachel Swindler) and stylish but financially on the wane society friend Ginger (Melliss Kenworthy, graceful and tart) turn into edgy comedy. When all the characters are at risk of catching up with each other and bringing Becky's complicated new directions to a smashing end, we get close to farce. But finally, overall, Becky's joyride makes us consider the practical, social, and moral implications of pursuing a life change. Whether it's in young or more mature or elder adulthood, we're persuaded to give thought to how and why we or even if we should embark further on our journey.
So although Banyan begins its summer season with a lighter and less classic than usual play, it maintains its mission of presenting theatre of substance and quality of writing and performing. A top-rated consumer's report goes to Richard Cannon's tiered set of Becky's house, the office, and Walter's mansion's balcony, all lit to perfection by Michael Pasquini. Dee Richards has appropriately dressed everyone, from Joe's workaday casuals to Ginger's stunning goldish-bronze cocktail dress. The only thing I question is the script's requirement of audience participation (which I dislike in general but many think is dandy) in one change of costume as Becky rambles on, and I wish the director could have done without it. 
Jon Merlyn as Stage Manager once again proves indispensable to a smoothly run Banyan Theater Co. production. Here's 2 hours, 15 minutes of a "trip" that offers a very entertaining lead into the company's tenth season.   

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