Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: SEPTEMBER 10, 2010
Finding yourself . Establishing your identity. Asserting your independence. It doesn’t matter if you’re 17 or 47, abandoned by your mother or lost in your marriage it needs to be done. And how that first brazen step is taken is the focus of two unconventional plays: “Eleemosynary” and “Becky’s New Car.”
Eleemosynary means ‘ charitable,’ and it’s the word that won Echo the National Spelling Bee. But even that achievement wasn’t enough to earn her the sustained attention – or the reconciliation – of her mother and grandmother. The three generations of Westbrook women form an intelligent, neurotic and eccentric trio – though they’re rarely all in the same room at the same time. Relations are fraught. Expectations run high. But at 17, Echo feels compelled to engineer a rapprochement, to make her life and her family interactions work, even though her mother keeps disappearing from both.
Moxie Theatre imbues Lee Blessing’s provocatively non-linear mother-daughter play with fantasy and ingenuity, thanks to the imaginative direction of Chelsea Whitmore, the clever design of Angelica Ynfante and three terrific performances. Rachel Van Wormer first played Echo eight years ago, when she was 17, the same age as Echo. But having inhabited the character twice more, she’s grown into her and brought considerably more depth and nuance, complemented by the excellent Julie Sachs as icy mom and Rhona Gold as wild and whimsical grandma. A dazzling production all around.
“Becky’s New Car” sparkles, too. And the dark-tinged comedy has an inspiring backstory. Seattle resident Charlie Staadecker commissioned the play for his wife Benita’s birthday. They’ve been traveling all over the country, seeing each of the 11 productions to date, and telling audiences you don’t have to be rich to make a difference in the arts. When they spoke at North Coast Repertory Theatre, they proved to be a warm and wonderful couple, and I hope scads of people follow their uplifting lead in underwriting a new play. What a creative way to support the theater.
The Staddeckers definitely got their money’s worth. “Becky’s New Car” is an undeniable delight: funny, poignant and wise. A middle-aged woman is enticed away from her long-term marriage, and when her husband finds out, she’s determined to drive off into the sunset. But then comes Act II, which is full of amusing surprises.
David Ellenstein’s superb direction of a stellar ensemble juices up these fun and funky characters. Some observers even get into the act; the fourth wall is repeatedly broken and audience members are invited onstage to weigh in on Becky’s life choices – and help her dress for her first assignation. The play takes some deliciously unexpected turns, just as Becky does in her new car. Dream cast, marvelous design and an awesome inception of a thought-provoking play. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
“Eleemosynary” runs through September 26, at Moxie Theatre, near SDSU.
“Becky’s New Car” also continues through September 26, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach .
©2010 PAT LAUNER