Actors break the fourth wall when they talk to the audience. But what is it called when a character not only talks, but invites audience members up on stage to help them pack a suitcase or pick out an outfit? Director Katie Laris calls it her new play at the Jurkowitz Theatre on the SBCC campus, a warm comedy called “Becky’s New Car”, which opens in previews this coming Wednesday.
Steven Dietz’s 2009 comedy borrows from the familiar mid-life crisis trope and presents it with a rare female perspective.
“This is a woman who’s lost her identity,” says Ms. Laris. “She’s become disconnected from every aspect of her life because she’s spent it looking after the household.” The play marks a venture by the director into contemporary material after a period play-heavy couple of years.
It also features the welcome return of Leslie Gangl-Howe in a lead role at SBCC’s theater after her well-loved turn in “Shadowlands.” Her title character doesn’t have a bad life — a steady job, a husband, a psych-major son — but it’s a boring, predictable one. She works at a car dealership, and into her humdrum life walks Walter Flood (Martin Bell), an eccentric, recently widowed millionaire who wants to purchase nine cars. In one of those subconscious, crazy decisions, Becky says her husband is deceased, and suddenly she is living a second, much more exciting life.
“The moment I read it I immediately had to direct it,” Ms. Laris says. “It stretches the boundaries between the actors and the audience. Ideally they become so involved in what’s happening that they truly come along for the ride. It’s aiding and abetting the character. But the tone is sweet; all the characters have a warmth to them.”
The rest of the cast includes Tom Hinshaw as her husband; Jon Koons as Becky’s co-worker; Josh Jenkins as Becky’s slacker son; Melissa Morgan Squire as the formerly wealthy neighbor of Walter; and?Bre Piantanida as Walter’s daughter.
Ms. Laris says the parts of the play that call for audience participation make this a high-wire act for everybody. She invited people to come watch rehearsals in order to give the actors a bit of experience, but anything can happen on opening night.
“I can’t think of any play that uses the audience like this,” she says. “However, it all depends of Leslie’s charm, and she has buckets of charm.”
Coming, as it did, one year after the financial disaster of 2008, there’s a bit of depression around the edges of this comedy. People are having to take on several jobs just to scrape by, and money doesn’t go as far as it used to. Becky has had to let her Costco membership go, for example. “It feels like it’s happening in real time, in a way,” Ms. Laris says.
The mid-life crisis story is different for a woman, the play says. While men often go an buy that sports car or luxury toy, it’s not what the object is for Becky; it’s what that object can do. Hitting the open road is her escape.
“She talks about her car as the one place she has piece,” Ms. Laris says. “For her she goes on a trip to go back and find herself. But like in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you have to come home to find yourself. You just have to have these experiences in order to get there.”
‘Becky’s New Car’
When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun., through May 11
Where: SBCC’s Jurkowitz Theatre
Information: 965-5935, www.theatergroupsbcc.com