Sunday, February 10, 2013


Bethany begins with Charlie (Ken Marks), a third-rate motivational speaker, practicing his spiel in the mirror. "And I'll tell you one thing about [your] higher power," he says. "He wants you to be rich. Rich beyond your wildest dreams."  In the next scene, Crystal (America Ferrera), a young woman in a suit and red spike heels, lets herself into an empty (she thinks) house. A single mother who lost custody of her daughter after losing her job and home, Crystal wouldn't agree with Charlie. Not at all.

When Crystal discovers that the house is occupied by Gary, a sort-of-crazy, sort-of-savvy, sort-of-likeable sort-of-vagrant, she enters into an uneasy alliance with him. He takes the upstairs, she takes the downstairs, and they agree not to bother each other. Next we find out that Crystal is now working at a Saturn dealership, where she is desperate to close a sale. Who should walk in but Charlie, showing great interest in the various cars, and even more interest in Crystal?

Tobias Segal, America Ferrera
Photo: Carol Rosegg

Bethany, written by Laura Marks and directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch, is a study of various sorts of neediness, and its examination of the clash between individual responsibility and an uncaring society has strong moments. But the show frequently gets in its own way. The biggest problems are these: 1. The way Charlie is written and played, Crystal would see through him quickly, no matter how desperate she is. 2. Crystal would never stay with Gary when she knows there are dozens of empty houses in the neighborhood from which to choose.

There is also a lack of attention to detail that seriously messes with suspension of disbelief. For example: In this deserted house, shortly after meeting Gary, who could be a murderer for all she knows, Crystal turns her back on him. And: After specifically saying that she cannot afford dry cleaning for her suit, she proceeds to sit on the floor and eat a hamburger, unwrapped, without changing her clothing or using a napkin or showing any concern for how greasy and drippy hamburgers can be. And: She would never tell Charlie that the car he's considering could get him laid under the circumstances in which she tells him just that. And: Early on, Gary mentions that the electricity could go out in the house at any time; this should be a major source of tension but it is completely forgotten.

Ultimately, with the help of a smart performance by the likeable America Ferrera, Bethany manages to do an effective job of showing how the lack of money and power can strip someone bare emotionally, psychologically, and morally. But I think it could have been devastating.

(press ticket, second row center)

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