Should she or shouldn't she commit adultery? That's the key question the title character in "Becky's New Car" asks as she polls the women of the audience.
The fact that the leading lady gets to interact with the audience (known in theater parlance as "breaking the fourth wall") is just one of the delights of Steven Dietz's Seattle-set 2008 comedy now playing at Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles. "Becky's New Car" is often mischievous in the way that the title character breaks with standard theatrical conventions just as she ponders the risks and ramifications of breaking her marriage vows when an unbelievable opportunity falls into her lap.
"Becky's New Car"★ ★ ★
Location: Steel Beam Theatre, 111 W. Main St., St. Charles, (630) 587-8521 or steelbeamtheatre.com
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; through Sunday, March 17
Running time: About two hours, 15 minutes with intermission
Parking: Nearby parking garage and street parking
Tickets: $25; $23 students/seniors
Rating: For teenagers and adults: brief profanity and some offstage sexual situations
Middle-aged mother Becky Foster (Patricia Finn-Morris) feels underappreciated at home and at work. She's saddled with a freeloading, smarter-than-thou grad student son named Chris (Jonathan Crabtree). Also, the added overtime from her job as a car dealership title clerk and office manager keeps Becky away from her roofer husband, Joe (Joe Billquist).
Then, out of nowhere, a free-spending widower millionaire named Walter Flood (Jim Quan) enters Becky's life and instantly becomes infatuated with her. The dithery Walter wrongly assumes that Becky is widowed, and invites her to enter his world of island mansions, luxury cars and expensively catered dinners.
Becky is conflicted about taking up with Walter, but also tempted by this amazing turn of events that promises good fortune if she turns her back on her former life.
"Becky's New Car" succeeds at Steel Beam despite a cast that, on opening night, didn't quite get a full handle on Dietz's comically coincidence-filled script that pivots on an exaggerated Cinderella wish-fulfillment device. Debuting Steel Beam director Marge Uhlarik-Boller could have coaxed a bit more kookiness from some of the cast to garner bigger laughs, but her work is largely solid and allows Dietz's fun script to shine.
On opening night, Finn-Morris was still working out the contours of the frequently frazzled Becky, wavering a bit on line delivery and showing some unease with building an instant rapport with the audience as advisers. Yet Finn-Morris already shows great potential with the role and she'll be even more of a comical confidante with additional performances under her belt.
Likewise, Quan needs to find the right balance of moneyed authority and a comical disconnect from reality.
The cast features great work from actors who have brief but memorable supporting roles.
Ellen Daschler nails her ambivalent character of Ginger, the recently broke lumber heiress who bemoans the fact that she now has to work for a living. Cady Leinicke also makes for a coy Kenni, Flood's spoiled grown daughter who is shocked to find herself in love with someone way below her economic class.
Tony Lake shines as the quirky eco-conscious car salesman Steve Singletary, whose unending harping about the hiking accident that took his wife's life prompts Becky to realize just how quickly and indiscriminately life can slip away.
Steel Beam Theatre clearly has a comic winner on its hands with "Becky's New Car," which also benefits from moments of seriousness amid so much silliness. And as audience members, don't be surprised if you personally get called upon to help Becky out.