When a woman says she wants a new house, she really wants a new husband. When she says she wants a new car, she really wants a new life. In Steven Dietzs smart if tonally uneven new play, these are the prophetic words of amiable and grounded Becky Foster (Joanna Daniels), who worries that she has squandered her best years as an office manager drudge at a car dealership, while saddled with a lumpen husband (Jon Eric Preston) and patronizing grad student son (Nick Rogers). A chance for a new life comes prancing into Beckys dealership, when slightly spacey billionaire billboard tycoon Walter (Brad Greenquist) randomly chooses Becky as the sales agent for his mass-purchase of cars for all the employees at his company. Walter, grieving over the death of his wife, is inexplicably attracted to the earthy real world Becky, whose own moral compass starts swinging around like a drunken sailor as she contemplates ditching her family for a life of glamour and wealth. Dietzs play receives its Los Angeles premiere in director Michael Rothhaars whimsical production that comes laced with melancholy. The plays genesis is worthy of some note: The work was a personal commission by a Seattle arts patron as a gift for his wife. As such, the material occasionally tries a little too hard to please, with a narrative that occasionally emulates the mood of 1930s screwball comedies a style that is an uneven alchemical fit with the underlying tone of midlife despair, in which the work is also deeply steeped. However, when Dietz is willing to let the play rise to silly froth, the results are splendid. Scenes in which Daniels bubbly Becky repeatedly invites opinions from audience members some of whom are roped onstage into helping her with a wonderfully droll costume change moment balance charmingly with moments in which she finds herself swept away by Greenquists charismatic Walter. Although the contrivances of the plays final third are too preposterous to sustain even willing disbelief, the ensemble overall crackles with witty, sympathetic performances including Rogers as Beckys goofy son and by Suzanne Fords graceful turn as a prickly rival for Walters affections. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd, Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through August 15. (310) 822-8392.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: July 10. Continues through Oct. 24, 2010