As November begins, Forge Theater opens a production of Steven Dietz’s contemporary dramatic comedy Becky’s New Car. A cozy, little stage serves as an American home, an office at a car dealership and that hazy space in between theatre and reality where an actress and the woman that she’s playing might occasionally address an audience while talking about her life. It's a very social trip to a studio theatre with characters that feel as real as anyone you might pass on the street.
Amy Hansmann is graciously enjoyable as a woman lost in the machinery of her own life. Steven Dietz’s script asks a lot of the actress playing Becky. She’s the center of the story. She’s supposed to be endearing and casual, but her life is being presented in very dramatic action onstage for a couple of hours. Hansmann makes this seem perfectly natural in her monologuing to the audience and her interactions with the rest of the cast. Her office, home and a terrace she sometimes visits are all right there. Hansmann makes the home environment feel perfectly natural. There’s a real intimacy there between actor and audience.
Dietz has Becky asking various things of the people in the front row. She’s an appealing personality onstage, so why not help her with her dress or staple a few things together for her? Hansmann has such a refreshingly down-to-earth presence onstage that she makes it feel natural. The informality of the space between actors, characters and audience conjure an instinctively believable reality to the story. Becky’s home and office are onstage in studio performance space of a microbrewery...which should feel awkward in light of how casual it all seems. Hansmann’s affability in the role of Becky bridges the weird gaps between venue, audience and story. She’s aided in this quite a bit by the man playing her husband.
Robert W.C. Kennedy is sparklingly charismatic as Becky’s husband Joe. There’s a wit to the character that Kennedy picks-up on, lending a very distinct personality to it that solidly grounds Becky’s home life. Whereas Hansmann is playing a character out of synch with her own life, Kennedy is playing a roofer who seems quite content with things. Joe’s confident contentedness give Kennedy a casual mastery of the home space that feels appealingly earthbound.
Joe Krapf enters the stage with a thoughtful daze in the role of a grieving millionaire who wants to be a few cars after hours at the dealership where Becky works. The chance encounter threatens to change Becky’s life in a very big way. Krapf carries a whimsical nonplussed sort of a demeanor throughout much of the show, opening the dramatic dynamic of life onstage in various appealingly awkward directions.
Cara Johnston has a very crisp and bracing presence in the role of the millionaire’s daughter, who is looking for a change in her own life as well. A woman born into great wealth is scarcely someone who would seem terribly interesting in a dramatic comedy, but Johnston radiates a genuine compassion that makes for a very refreshingly human heiress.
Jason Nykiel brings a young intellectual energy to the stage as Joe and Becky’s son Walter--a college student focussing on psychology. Nykiel plays a man lost in his studies who sees everything through the lens of his studies.
Director Jake Brockmann has found just the right pace in just the right place for a comedy that wields the weight of real drama as characters attempt to find some direction in life. It all seems so very simple and so very complicated at the same time as we peer in on a few lives from the snug intimacy of a studio theatre.
Forge Theater’s production of Becky’s New Car runs through Nov. 10th at Urban Harvest Brewing Company on 1024 S. 5th St. For ticket reservations, visit Forge Theater online.