BWW Reviews: Theatre en Bloc's BETHANY is Challenging and Disturbing in the Best Way Possible
How far would you go to keep your family intact? Theatre en Bloc's recent production of 'Bethany' poses this question to macabre results in a wonderfully dark show that gives a face to the victims of the recent economic downturn.
The play centers around the delightfully neurotic Crystal, a car saleswoman who has lost everything- her home, her security and most importantly- her daughter, the titular Bethany, who has been made a ward of the state. In an effort to get her back, Crystal has commandeered an abandoned house in a ghost neighborhood, though she has chosen one with another squatter, the passionate and potentially unbalanced hobo Gary. The two come to an agreement to share the home, the first of many uneasy compromises that Crystal agrees to. The script does a great job of showing the many bad decisions that Crystal makes, all for the sake of survival and getting her daughter back. Thrown into this is her relationships with a potential client, the smarmy motivational speaker Charlie, and her boss Shannon. The play devolves into a final, unrelenting climax that leaves the audience rapt with grotesque satisfaction and a deep empathy for this woman who is just trying her best to take care of her daughter.
Part of what makes this production so successful is the detail and commitment provided by the cast. The interactions between characters always feel intimate and real, as if we are watching them through a two-way mirror. Lara Wright brings a terrific energy to the character of Crystal, balancing the downward slope of the character arc with a put-on optimism. She is captivating and has you rooting for the character because we know that she is doing everything right, as much as she can. The character of Gary is a terrific foil for Crystal and is portrayed with by Derek Kolluri with an oafish charm belying a dangerous man one word away from losing his mind. Their relationship sets the audience on the edge of their seat- we know from the first scene that the peace between them is temporary, and the palpable tension continues with the other characters as well- they all seem a bit gleeful in their subtle attacks on Crystal. In particular, Martina Ohlhauser shines as Crystal's stodgy boss Shannon, transitioning from frank distaste to drunken humor with ease.
The technical components of this show should also be lauded for creating a sense of realism and detail that is rarely afforded to theatre-goers in Austin. The lighting was tonally appropriate, creating the perfect atmosphere of a dimly lit home and an overly clean car dealership. In addition, the set design marvels in its simplicity- it's made to look like an everyday, cookie cutter house, and it succeeds to the last detail.
Last but not least, credit deserves to be given to Jenny Lavery, who has once again proven herself to be one of the top directors in town. She and her production have delivered in every category, providing us with yet another wholly complete and satisfying show. It's a treat to see a production reminiscent of a Pedro Almodovar film, one that includes visual references to the Twilight Zone, and even more, the taut portrayal of an epic power shift that shocks and elicits sounds of discomfort and joy from the audience. Theatre en Bloc has shown time and again that their productions are well-executed, thoughtful, and challenging, and 'Bethany' is the latest in a series of triumphs.