Director Gil Lazier has chosen a true actor’s showcase for the Banyan Theatre Company’s season kick-off production, and the actors he’s chosen are truly showing off their stuff. The directing is smooth and smart; the script witty and wise. The play focuses on the romantic mid-life crisis of a working woman who has a successful marriage and a 26-year-old live-in son. What happens when Mr. Impossibly Right is thrown into the lap of an average, relatively content, happily married, upper-middle-class American woman?
The light-hearted, sophisticated play, written by Steven Dietz, is robust and involving and modern, yet timelessly well-observed. The characters are real and endearing slice-of-life contemporaries.
Dietz, who has written a whopping 29 plays, is most well-known for “The Lonely Planet,” about the AIDS epidemic, and “God’s Country,” an examination of white supremacy. He’s recognized as the eighth most-produced “regional” playwright in the country, tying with Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams. Most of his work is either political or comedic, and his themes tend to revolve around personal betrayal and deception. “Becky’s New Car,” which won the Steinburg New Play Award from the American Theatre Critics Association, is a comedic look at the lighter, more farcical side of deception and betrayal.
An added embellishment to an otherwise straight-up narrative is the breaking of the “fourth wall.” The main character, Becky, begins the play with a monologue in which she speaks directly to the audience. This Shakespearean conceit is not consistently employed after that, except for a couple of funny bits. In one of them, three women from the audience are invited on stage to help Becky change clothes for a dinner party.
Geraldine Librandi, as Becky, strikes the perfect notes as she strums the chords of Becky’s sudden self-discovery. She is funny, frustrated, self-deceptive; bemused, bothered, bewildered and utterly believable. Librandi gives us a woman who is stunned by herself, as if she’s going along for the ride in a trance, testing out her new car and admiring the scenery along the open, undiscovered road of her hitherto unimaginable new life.
Don Walker is marvelous as the husband. He plays him in a wry, understated way as is called for by the comfortable, supportive relationship between the pair. Walker reveals a strong, confident, patient man.
The son, whose life is still unsettled, is played with charming exuberance by Jesse Dorman, who bounces around the house, consumed by a newly acquired passion for jogging.
Each part is carefully written with an interesting back story, and each actor is perfect for the part. The funny Robert D. Mowry transforms himself into Walter Flood, a garrulous car salesman stuck in the past. Peter Thomasson plays the disingenuous millionaire with delightful winsomeness. Rachel Swindler, as his beautiful and smart daughter, is a joy to watch, and Melliss Kenworthy flawlessly embodies the worldly, upper-class family friend, Ginger.
Set designer Richard E. Cannon admirably provides a set divided between two extremely different houses. Adorable outfits are by costume designer Dee Richards.
IF YOU GO
“Becky’s New Car” runs through July 17, at the Jane B. Cook Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail.
For ticket information, call 351-2802 or contact banyantheatercompany.com