Mesmerizing, high stakes drama set during the recession
|The Gift Theatre presents|
Review by Keith Glab
Making its Chicago premiere to close the Gift Theatre’s 2014 season, Bethany concerns Crystal (Hillary Clemens), a young mother who fights for custody of her five-year-old child in the midst of the recent recession.
While most of us can relate to falling on some hard times when the economy turned south, what happens to Crystal is unusually drastic. She squats in a foreclosed home in an effort to convince her social worker (Susaan Jamshidi) that she is fiscally responsible enough to care for Bethany. The mentally unstable Gary (Paul D’Addario) shares the house with her, having found this livable flat first. Crystal works in sales at a Saturn dealership, and is desperate to make a sale in order to furnish her appropriated home. Her willingness to do anything to make a sale includes stealing her co-worker’s customer, a wealthy motivational speaker named Charlie (James D. Farruggio), and escalates from there.
The stakes keep getting raised, eventually leading to manipulation, lies, and violence. Perhaps the events of this play are sensationalized, but the intelligent plotting and honest acting make you fully believe in what happens. More than one occurrence proves so disturbing that one feels rather uncomfortable watching it unfold. John Tovar’s gritty fight choreography and Marti Lyons’ commitment to allowing the audience to see the full fallout of that violence combine to produce a sickening, mesmerizing effect. A rotating set backdrop effortlessly transforms the foreclosed house into the Saturn dealership many times throughout the production so that it never loses its emotional momentum.
As usual with a Gift Theatre production, it’s the performances that take everything to the next level. As Gift ensemble stalwarts, Clemens, D’Addario, and Farruggio all work extremely well together. Clemens displays clear intentions with everything that she does onstage, and her subtext hits every corner of the space. D’Addario finds a believable balance by portraying Gary as a quirky conspiracy theorist who can get set off to become a full scale nutjob. Farruggio appears to relish playing the charismatic-yet-unscrupulous Charlie. The guest cast also does a fine job in their smaller roles. Mary Anne Bowman is particularly notable in her restrained portrayal of an emotional character who unexpectedly enters the fray towards the end of the play.
There’s no doubt that Bethany will strike a chord with a wide range of audiences. The production answers the question of what seemingly good people are capable of doing when they are desperate enough. The answer is disturbing, but this snappy, clever, and humorous production will make you enjoy feeling perturbed.
Bethany continues through November 23rd at The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 2:30pm. Tickets are $20-$30, and are available by phone (773-283-7071) or online through Vendini.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at TheGiftTheatre.org. (Running time: 85 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Claire Demos
behind the scenes
Marti Lyons (director), Hutch Pimentel (asst. director), Courtney O’Neill (set design), Christopher Kriz (sound design, original music), Michael Stanfill (lighting design), Kristy Hall (costume design), John Tovar (fight choreography), Danielle Case (props design); Sarah Luse (stage manager), Claire Demos (photos)