Directed by: Marti Lyons
Presented by: The Gift Theatre, Chicago
Desperation can bring out the worst in people.
The Gift Theatre plays home to Bethany, making it’s Chicago debut. We all remember when the recession hit in 2009. We all knew we should’ve seen it coming, yet somehow so many of us still went through struggles. Those struggles are no stranger to Crystal or any of the other pieces in the puzzling production that was Bethany. Bethany tells us a tale of hardship and desperation and begs the question “How far would you go?”
The scene opens on a dark stage, a single spotlight focused on Charlie, a well-known motivational speaker. Charlie (charmingly performed by James D. Farruggio), begins the story with some words of inspiration. The hollow words of a motivational speaker whose only personal motivation is money. He exits, and the lights come up on the kitchen of a seemingly normal suburban home. We see Crystal come to the door, jimmy it open, and step inside. She stands in the kitchen, a beautiful, well-dressed woman in a striking blue pantsuit. She turns on the lights, peeks in the empty fridge, realizes it needs to be plugged in.
Suddenly, she’s startled by a noise from the other side of the house. A gruff and intimidating man walks into the room. She gets uncomfortable, and tries to leave. He apologizes. You come to find that this home has been foreclosed on, and both Crystal and this mysterious drifter are just looking for a place to sleep. After deciding to share the residence, they adjourn to their separate sides of the house and get some sleep. The next day we see Crystal at work. She is a Saturn dealer, and quite a good one at that. A man walks up to her and asks to see a car. After going back and forth about each other looking familiar, he hands her his card. Suddenly it clicks! This man is Charlie, the motivational speaker. They met at one of his seminars.
He begins flirting with her in his quest to obtain a Saturn. Her boss, Shannon (brought to life by the lovely Kirby O’Connell), regretfully informs Crystal that the store will be shut down at the end of the week. Miserable, she goes back to her semi-vacant home and tries not to worry about it. After buying groceries and fake furniture, we find out that Crystal’s temporary shelter comes with an ulterior motive. She opens the door to a fiercely dressed woman by the name of Toni (well performed by Susaan Jamshidi). Toni is revealed to be from the DCFS (Department of Child and Family Services), and we come to find out that Crystal has more going on than being homeless and potentially out of work. After losing her home in the recession, we learn that Crystal and her daughter, Bethany, were forced to live out of her car.
When DCFS found out about this Bethany was promptly taken out of Crystal’s custody. The furniture and the food are nothing more than a cheap ruse to convince them that she owns this residence. I don’t want to reveal too much of the story, because it does take quite an unexpected turn, but I feel this about sums it up. A woman struggling to do anything she can to get her daughter back. Absolutely anything.
What did I think of Bethany, you ask? Well…my answer is this. I have no idea. The plot seemed to be all over the place yet go nowhere at the same time. Now, I don’t blame the actors at all. I actually thought, for the most part, that the show was very well performed. I don’t blame the set or costume designers (Courtney O’Neill and Kristy Hall respectively). The set transitions were quick and brilliantly orchestrated thanks to the rotating walls between the home and the Saturn dealership. The costuming was also phenomenal. Kristy Hall’s costumes seem to take on the personalities of the characters they’re covering.
Almost bringing them to life before they can even speak. The problem I have with this play is that it makes no sense. The plot ends abruptly. The climax comes without warning. The play paints unrealistic characters who end up being truly despicable people. The ending seems to treat everything like it’s resolved, when in reality the problems are only worse. I really can not tell you how I feel about this play. I didn’t hate it. The acting was great, the story was interesting when it stayed on track, and the overall theme of desperation is well established and consistent. Overall I would have to say that it’s definitely interesting and full of a lot of talent. If you can deal with a few plot holes, it’s really not a bad show.
Date Reviewed: October 16, 2014
At The Gift Theatre, 4802 N Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL 60630
tickets $20-$35, Thursday-Saturday 7:30, Sunday 2:30. Run time is
roughly 90 minutes without an intermission, through November 23