Out & About: ‘Becky’s New Car’ is a comic, emotional ride

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The vitality of southern Maine’s performing arts scene is evident this week, with interesting offerings by a variety of producers and presenters.

Tops in the theater department is “Becky’s New Car,” a romantic comedy revolving around mid-life crisis and a woman who rides through it with style. Good Theater is producing the Portland premiere through Feb. 23.

Portland Ovations resumes its 2013-2014 classical series Friday as it presents young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor in a recital of four works by 19th-century European composers.

Portland Symphony Orchestra resumes its 2013-2014 Tuesday Classical series on Feb. 11 with a program that revolves around flutes.

Garnet Rogers, a veteran Canadian singer-songwriter with an incredibly resonant voice will appear Friday at One Longfellow Square in Portland.

‘Becky’s New Car’

Caught in the doldrums of middle age, untold millions of people dream of starting life anew, or at least making a major mid-course deviation into new and exciting realms of experience.

That’s the underlying premise of many dramatic works. Few succeed as well as “Becky’s New Car,” an offbeat and thoroughly entertaining romantic comedy written by Steven Dietz that premiered in Seattle in 2008. It quickly became one of the most-produced plays in America.

The title character isn’t truly unhappy. Becky (Laura Houck) is simply suffering a case of the midlife blahs after 28 years of marriage and nine years of shuffling papers at a major automobile dealership.

When a mysterious, socially inept and very rich customer walks through the showroom doors one night after hours and buys no fewer than nine new cars with cash, Becky unexpectedly finds that a door to a new and adventurous life is opening.

Hesitant to walk through the door at first, Becky slowly discards her normal cautions and flings herself headlong into an affair. But complications quickly arise when Becky’s husband starts doing business with her paramour, and her adult son starts dating his daughter.

Dietz eschews the traditional romantic farce – although there are a few of the genre’s traditional comic devices – in favor of a very thoughtful comic approach to exploring and resolving this obviously chaotic situation.

I loved Houck as the title character. The veteran Equity actress, who spent years as a vital force in the New York theater world, deftly balances Becky’s fiercely competing facets to deliver one of the finest performances in Good Theater’s decade-plus history. Houck exudes both warmth and good humor, and as the story unfolds, everyone in the theater is pulling for Becky to pull through the mess that embroils her.

The other six actors, directed by Brian P. Allen, also deliver stellar performances.

As Feb. 14 approaches, I can’t imagine a sweeter way to treat your special Valentine than a romantic dinner and a performance of “Becky’s New Car.”

Good Theater presents “Becky’s New Car” through Feb. 23 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) in Portland. Performances are slated for 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Additional matinee performances may be added to the schedule as dates sell out. Call Good Theater at 885-5883.

Benjamin Grosvenor

A rising star in the firmament of classical music will be visiting Portland this Friday, part of Portland Ovations’ 2013-2014 season. Benjamin Grosvenor, a 21-year-old British pianist, will perform a recital in Merrill Auditorium that showcases his full spectrum of technical and artistic talents.

Born to a musical family in England, Grosvenor came to prominence at the age of 11 as the keyboard winner of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition. Since then, he has gained international recognition for his electrifying performances and penetrating interpretations. Exquisite technique and ingenious flair for tonal color are the twin hallmarks that make him one of the most sought-after young pianists in the world today.

Most of Grosvenor’s Portland recital will focus on a variety of 19th-century works for solo piano by some of Europe’s top composers. These include Felix Mendelssohn’s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, Franz Schubert’s Impromptu in G-flat Major and Robert Schumann’s “Humoresque.” Two waltzes are on the program. The “Valse de Faust” is credited to both Charles Gounod and Franz Liszt, while Maurice Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales” – although written early in the 20th century – continues the late 19th-century fascination with the three-beat dance.

Portland Ovations presents Benjamin Grosvenor in solo recital at 8 p.m. Feb. 7 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Following a three-month break, the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s Tuesday Classical series resumes Feb. 11 with a program that features principal flutist Lisa Hennessey in a major work of the 20th century by an Armenian composer.

Aram Khachaturian’s Concerto for Flute was influenced largely by the folk music of his youth, which featured long, improvisational melodies, rhythms and colors. The first movement, joyful and buoyant, leads into a dramatic and dark second movement before returning to the concerto’s original jubilance in the finale.

Hennessy, the soloist in the Khatchaturian concerto, is a virtuoso flutist who is also a member of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra and frequently plays with the Boston Ballet, Boston Lyric Opera and Boston Philharmonic.

The second half of the program will be Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, which also features the flute, albeit less prominently. The introduction to Tuesday’s program will be the overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s final opera, “The Magic Flute.”

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra in concert at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Garnet Rogers

Boasting the resonant baritone voice of an opera star – plus the lofty stature of a basketball star – Canadian singer-songwriter Garnet Rogers motors into Portland’s One Longfellow Square this Friday.

Rogers has been a fixture on the international music circuit since the early 1980s. Since 1984 he has released 11 solo CDs, mostly on independent labels.

For the most part, Rogers performs his own songs; stories told by a skilled raconteur and populated by ordinary people who triumph over indifference and adversity.

Rogers’ musical creations are liberally interspersed with spoken humor. Music critic Allan Wigney, writing for Canada’s Sun Media, commented on Rogers’ onstage performances. “For audiences, a Garnet Rogers concert is often as much about the tales as it is about the tunes,” wrote Wigney.

Catch Garnet Rogers at 8 p.m. Feb. 7 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State streets in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Kathleen Kimball, Laura Houck and Wil Kilroy in the denouement of “Becky’s New Car,” now at Portland’s Good Theater.