The Hard Sell: “Bethany” at the Women’s Project

Women's Project Theater's Bethany by Laura Marks directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch l to r Tobias Segal and America Ferrera Credit Carol Rosegg 0267

Poor Crystal—her kid’s in foster care, sales at the Saturn dealership are down, and now she’s squatting in an abandoned home. Hey, at least this one’s got water and electricity, right?

That’s not much consolation in Bethany, Laura Marks’s new play at the Women’s Project, directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch. Nope, Crystal (America Ferrera of Ugly Betty) needs more than just utilities to pull her life back together.

One day that miracle seems to appear in the form of Charlie (Ken Marks), an inspirational speaker who trades in Purpose Driven Life-style consumerist optimism. And when he makes moves on a sexy new ride, the hefty commission waiting for Crystal seems like an answered prayer. And yet… Charlie isn’t quite who he seems, plunging Crystal into a web of deceit and manipulation, turning her into a pawn in the evil chess game of post-millennial economic malaise. Yes, my dears, there will be blood.

The discomforting conclusion is that vice begets vice. As the world mistreats Crystal, so too does Crystal mistreat the world. The play’s best scene actually tracks this flip flop in real time: Upon learning threatening information, Crystal instantly morphs from abusee to abuser, no blink, no thought, no pause. (It is a credit to the writing and Ms. Ferrera’s effortless charm that you never fault the character for her bad behavior.)

Behind this screen of personal drama Bethany successfully hides a political message, one that condemns Crystal’s society, not Crystal herself. In Bethany that’s a society of manifest destiny consumerism, of the “law of prosperity.” It’s a kind of material-oriented thinking that leaves Crystal and company in the dirt. “What am I supposed to do?” she asks at one particularly distressing moment.

No easy answers, not in 2013.

What is she supposed to do?

All of us are wondering.

Bethany, by Laura Marks, directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch
featuring Emily Ackerman, America Ferrera, Kristin Griffith, Ken Marks, Tobias Segal, and Myra Lucretia Taylor
at City Center II, through February 17
click HERE for tickets
photos by Carol Rosegg, pictured above: 
Tobias Segal and America Ferrera; below: America Ferrera and Emily Ackerman

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Like what you see? You might enjoy…
– Detroit House, an exploration of an abandoned theater and a meditation on economic decay
Feminism to the Rescue?, a writeup of 
Rapture, Blister Burn and Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder
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Women's Project Theater's Bethany by Laura Marks directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch l to r America Ferrera and Emily Ackerman Credit Carol Rosegg 0496

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