Life (Instructions Not Included): BECKY’S NEW CAR

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Photo by Mark S. Howard.

presented by The Lyric Stage Company
by Steven Dietz
Directed by Larry Coen
Production sponsored by Tim & Linda Holiner

November 29th – December 22nd
140 Clarendon Street
Boston, MA
Lyric Stage on Facebook

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Boston) Film, literature and theater are filled with midlife crises.  The plotlines for men offer them the chance to break away from office meetings and drudgery to lead a life of adventure and get the girl (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).  For women, the midlife crisis plotline offers a chance to break free from the ties that bind, to take a vacation from a family, and to have some great sex (The Bridges of Madison County).  Too often, things either resolve too well or too tragically, but always too neatly.  The explosion.  The choice.  The last goodbye.  Fade out.

Which makes Becky’s New Car at the Lyric Stage such a wonderfully subversive comedy that everyone needs to see.  The action continues to unfold long after the credits should have rolled in Becky’s midlife crisis, and her life spirals out of control in a hilarious and absurdly plausible fashion.  The play’s narrative structure, along with audience inclusion, drives home the point that we all can make choices, but we can’t control outcomes.

But wait….this isn’t eating your vegetables, this isn’t a sermon, this is fun!  From the moment you spot Shelley Barish’s playful gameboard set design, you know you’re in for something energetic and enjoyable.

This play works because director Larry Coen has his actors bring it.  I have rarely seen a cast so relish their material.  Celeste Olivia (Becky) is flawless, owning the stage from the beginning and inviting us into the party.  We can always see Becky’s gears turning as she’s thinking, rationalizing, and scheming through the muddle her life becomes, yet we never wince.  Becky is a good person, she is us, and she’s making a terrible mess.

That’s the strength of this play.  The cast, by and large, does a great job making characters that you would want to smack with a 2×4 so likable and familiar.  Nowhere is this more apparent than with Steve (Jamie Carrillo), an Eeyore of a widower who uses the one tragedy in his life to gain sympathy and behave badly.  Carrillo steals the show the moment he gets stuck on a children’s slide in his first entrance.  You cheer every moment Steve steps on stage, even if you would be tempted to serve him arsenic at a dinner party.  One audience member in the front row even felt comfortable enough decided to ask Steve to stop with a macabre monologue.  He didn’t. she plugged her ears, it worked.  It was that kind of show.

There’s a plot, to be sure, but you already know the plot.  You’ve seen it played out in your sister’s dumb marriage, or the jerk who got the raise at work.  And, sure, playwright Steven Dietz succumbs to a terrible 10 minutes at the end to try and wrap things up, but  I’m sure that’s only because he hasn’t got his messy little life figured out, either. Join the club, putz.

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