Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Provenance of "Becky's New Car"

Posted by Bruce Miller
Becky's New Car, which opens at Hanover Tavern on Friday, is a new comedy by Steven Dietz. It began its current road trip in Seattle, WA, in October of 2006. Charlie Staadecker, a successful commercial realtor in the Emerald City (Seattle's nickname), asked his wife Benita for some suggestions for a "major" gift that he might purchase for her upcoming 60th birthday. Reflecting on her happy and comfortable life, she replied that she didn't need anything, and suggested that he surprise her.

Benita Staadecker continues the story: "Little did I know that he would surprise me with the best gift I have ever received. Earlier in October we had attended a pumpkin carving." Charlie jumps in: "I've had two challenges in my life. One was Benita's request to go see Wayne Newton in Vegas. I didn't want to go, but Benita is hard to refuse so I went. It was the same with the pumpkin carving."

Back to Benita: "A woman at my table was telling of how she had commissioned a tuba concerto with the Seattle Symphony in memory of her husband and it was scheduled to premiere in January and she was afraid that no one would attend. I promised that my husband and I would come. I asked her questions about commissioning work and what it cost. All the while Charlie must have been listening, as he took this idea to ACT Theatre (where Benita serves as a trustee) and asked if he could commission a play in honor of his wife, as a birthday gift. The powers-that-be at ACT loved the idea."

Kurt Beattie, artistic director of ACT, contacted noted Seattle playwright Steven Dietz, and challenged him "to write a comedy." At first Dietz was skeptical, relates Charlie. "He said, 'Give me a bottle of scotch and a cabin for a weekend, and I'll write a drama.' But comedy is the gold standard."

Eventually Dietz accepted the challenge and the commission. Two months later, the first ten pages were presented to Benita during a Board meeting. "I was shocked," she said. "I had never gotten anything like that before. That was amazing. Not something you can wrap in a box."

Two years later, on Oct 17, 2008, Becky's New Car premiered at ACT. In Benita's own words, "The rest is history ... and the best ride of a lifetime."

Since the auspicious opening, Becky's New Car has been produced by 24 additional theatres in a continuous journey eastward. Barksdale and Hanover will be the easternmost location thus far.

As this peppy new play gains national momentum, Charlie and Benita Staadecker have come along for the ride. They've attended almost every production thus far, and will be joining us here in Central Virginia at 9:30 a.m. on September 30 for a fun and informative panel discussion about their Becky experience. Becky's star Melissa Johnston Price will join the panel, and I'll moderate. Billy Christopher Maupin will also be in attendance.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, the Staadecker's will be joining us at Hanover Tavern to watch the performances.

I hope you'll join us in the lobby at Willow Lawn on Friday, September 30, 9:30 a.m. for coffee, tea, pastries and a chance to hear all about surprise birthday gifts, and how to commission a play. It should be a rousing and informative discussion.

--Bruce Miller

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