For Becky Foster, there’s nothing fun about being stuck in the middle — of everything.
A middle-age woman with a middle management job, and stuck in a marriage that could be best described as “middling,” she is biding her time, so to speak, until something better, and perhaps more exciting, comes along.
Matt Brown knows what it’s like to be caught in the middle of a maelstrom.
Asked to take over the director’s chair of Powerhouse Theatre’s latest play when its original director had to pull out at the last minute for health reasons, Brown had barely time to skim the script before he was meeting his already auditioned cast for rehearsals.
Oh, and this all took place during the Christmas holidays, right after Powerhouse had just wrapped up its successful run of Annie, in which Brown had a supporting role as con man Daniel “Rooster” Hannigan.
Brown, who has directed two well-received plays for Powerhouse, including 2011’s Lend me A Tenor and last season’s O-Zone and Mainstage winning production The Woman in Black, had a few gigs to juggle (he also runs The Hub Arts Collective downtown, teaches theatre and acts professionally), but he managed to take over the driver’s seat and literally run with what he was offered.
And that’s how Becky’s New Car got her new life, at least behind the scenes.
The play, written by Steven Dietz, opens at Powerhouse on Feb. 20, and Brown says the show’s cast and crew have worked to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“When I walked in, the set design was done and the cast list had been finalized, and as much as I could not be willing to direct someone else’s show, and no other member of the cast had worked with me before, I did get attracted to the project both script-wise and director-wise,” said Brown.
“My directing style is different to that of the person I replaced and when I arrived, I felt a little like the elephant in the room, but everyone has been wonderful.”
The play, described as a “joy ride” by The Georgia Straight, is set in modern-day Seattle, and one of the challenges Brown first set out to undertake was to bring the setting to feel more like the north part of the Pacific Northwest.
“I did ask the set designers to tweak a few things,” he said. “I wanted to bring it a couple of hours north of the border. I wanted the West Coast to show up with blues and greys and open timber frame and rock.”
One of the play’s settings is the car dealership where Becky (played by newcomer to Powerhouse Janet Anderson) works as a billing manager in her blue collar job, paying the bills and not making enough money to get ahead.
The other setting is Becky’s home where her caring husband, Joe (Howard Joynt), is also a blue collar worker. He’s sweet, but boring, while their college-age son, Chris (Justin Kopy), still lives at home and takes his situation for granted.
The play is basically a comedy, but has serious overtones, said Brown.
“My first thought after reading it was that it was a comedy, but after the second read through I could see that it was actually quite an emotional play. I hope for the audience’s sake that the comedy runs through and that the texture is there. I want them to get the five-course meal.”
And although Anderson carries the weight as the main in the play and works like she’s doing a triathlon carrying the show with little backstage time, the stories behind all the other characters are just as significant, said Brown.
There’s Becky’s slightly annoying coworker Steve (Dave Sayer) who has just experienced a devastating loss. Also adding to the emotional depth is Walter Flood (John Lomas), the sad millionaire who wanders into the car dealership and then goes on to upend Becky’s life.
“John is bringing something specific to the role, namely vulnerability. The amount of care invested in his character comes from the way John shows us that vulnerability,” said Brown.
And then’s there the plight of the other rich but unhappy people in the story, including Flood’s daughter Kenni (Emily Heayn) who worries about her status, and their formerly rich neighbour Ginger (Sybolla Franje) who has her hands full because her life is empty.
“The allure of the show is that it’s not just one person’s journey, you get to watch several,” said Brown. “The interest peaks with the mesh and matrix of the story lines. Devastation is the common thread between the characters in the story, but they are sharing the story in a way that the audience can sympathize or empathize.
“We’ve all been there. We grieve and mourn when something’s gone, whether it’s Becky who has lost her passion or any of the others who have experience loss.”
Adding a different dimension to the play is the removability of the “fourth wall” that separates the audience from what is taking place on stage.
“The audience becomes as much as the story as to what people see on stage,” said Brown. “I don’t think Vernon has really experienced something like this before… It has these suggestible scenes that break reality, although it’s in a modern situation.”
Becky’s New Car runs at Powerhouse Theatre Feb. 20 to March 2 at 8 p.m. with a matinée Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. (No shows on Mondays.) Tickets are now available at the Ticket Seller in the Performing Arts Centre. Call 549-7469 or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.