As far as metaphors go, the notion that life is a juggling act seems about right. Each of us has responsibilities — to our employers, to our family, to our friends, to ourselves — that have to be addressed fairly and simultaneously if they are to be addressed at all, and keeping those balls aloft accounts for the frisson and frustration of everyday existence.
Christopher Wooley would suggest a different metaphor: that life is a puzzle, a potentially satisfying whole made of neatly interlocking pieces. Take one of those pieces away, or force it into a space where it wasn't designed to fit, and the harmony of that whole is threatened.
When it came time to choose a visual motif for Becky's New Car, which Wooley is currently directing in the Civic's downstairs studio theater, he and set designer Matthew Egan thought the puzzle imagery was especially apt. The play's story about "a lady going through a midlife crisis" — Becky Foster, played by Kathie Doyle-Lipe — seemed to hinge on the sudden rearrangement of those pieces and the unforeseen consequences.
"She gets caught up in a situation that just sort of happens," Wooley says. "I don't want to spoil the plot too much, but life gets out of control, and so she's forced into weird situations. That builds, and when it all comes crashing down, you're brought into the drama and the realism."
You see this in the play's set.
"It's all giant puzzle pieces that are connected. Heidi Farr is our prop mistress, and some of her props that we use are puzzle pieces, too. The cellphones are puzzle pieces, as is the pizza box. From the audience's standpoint, you can see how it all fits together," he says.
The characters, understandably, have far more trouble seeing the big picture. Were Becky able to step back and appreciate the satisfying whole of her own life, she might work harder to find the right moment to tell millionaire widower Walter Flood (Gary Pierce) that her husband is still alive. But she doesn't, and that's what sets the play's events in furious motion.
"It's kind of zany in terms of how fast everything's happening. It's just bam, bam, bam, bam," says Wooley. "There's one page in the script that we're in four different locations."
This marks the first time that Doyle-Lipe and Pierce, both longtime Civic veterans, will be on stage together, but Wooley says their "amazing dynamic" is right in line with the play's witty dialogue and snappy pace.
"Kathie has great comedic timing, so it's really nice to have her in the lead, driving everything. The story's about her, the show's about her, so the audience is following her decisions, her choices, her situation," he says. Her character's husband, Joe, is played by Steven Blount, who is new to the Civic but has prior acting experience in Dallas and Los Angeles.
Becky's New Car also invites theatergoers to become pieces of the puzzle unfolding before them. Playwright Steven Dietz has his characters casually ignore the fourth wall by sharing a beer or asking an unsuspecting participant to replace the toilet paper in the bathroom.
"At one point the audience helps one of the actresses get dressed," says Wooley, grinning. He adds that the thrust stage of the studio theater allows them to involve audience members more naturally. "We've got an audience on three sides, so there's action happening everywhere. There's never a dull moment." ♦
Becky's New Car • May 2 to June 1: Thu-Sat, 7:30 pm; Sun, 2 pm • $22 • Firth J. Chew Studio at Spokane Civic Theatre • 1020 N. Howard • spokanecivictheatre.com • 325-2507
2014 End-of-Season Theater Roundup
The curtain is closing on the 2013-14 theater season, which means most venues are about to stage their final or penultimate productions — starting with the classic grim farce Arsenic and Old Lace (May 2-18) at Lake City Playhouse. That's followed by The World Goes 'Round (May 8-25), a musical showcase featuring Cheyenne Nelson, at Interplayers. On May 16, Stage Left opens I Read About My Death in Vogue Magazine (through June 1), a wry look at the oft-proclaimed end of feminism. Also on May 16, the musical Gypsy — based on the life of the burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee — begins its month-long stint at the Civic, through June 15.
Arthur Miller's evocative drama A View from the Bridge then enjoys a brief run (May 28-June 1) at the EWU Theater at the same time a charity performance of A. R. Gurney's Love Letters starring Ellen Travolta and Jack Bannon enjoys an even briefer run (May 29-31) at Lake City Playhouse. That same weekend, Ignite! brings Noël Coward's supernatural comedy Blithe Spirit to the stage (May 30-June 15), and The Clink, a "jailhouse musical" by local composer Tom Cooper, gets its first-ever staged reading (May 31) at Meadowbrook Community Hall in Coeur d'Alene. The Clink is also set for a reading at Stage Left on June 13 and 14. (EI)