BWW Reviews: Well Performed Frustration in ACT's BETHANY
There's a plot device that has annoyed me since I was a kid. Sitcoms use it a lot. It's where the main character keeps lying and/or making obviously poor decisions which keeps digging them deeper and deeper into a hole until you just want to scream at them, "Just tell the truth and do the right thing already!" In sitcoms it all gets resolved in a fun way in 22 minutes and everyone learns a valuable lesson. But when this plot device is combined with the nation's current economic woes as is the case with Laura Marks' play "Bethany", currently playing at ACT, that frustration with the characters never seems to end leading to a bleak evening which left me asking, "why?" Is this a journey we need to take or is it simply frustration for frustration's sake and shining a spotlight on the plight of some to make others without the plight feel better about their lives?
In this tale of woe we meet Crystal (Emily Chisholm), a single mother who has come upon hard times and is now hitting rock bottom. She's homeless and has lost her daughter Bethany to social services and is desperate to get her back and get their lives back on track. To that end she takes up a squatters residence in a foreclosed house, and feels if she can just make that one more big sale at work she can dig her way out. But her plans keep running into roadblocks such as a social worker (Cynthia Jones) making demands, a supervisor (Jonelle Jordan) who doesn't trust her, the prospective buyer (Richard Ziman) who may or may not want what she's selling and an unstable homeless man (Darragh Kennan) with whom she is sharing the house as he was squatting there first. Are things resolved? Well kind of but not in any sitcom style as the play shows just how far Crystal is willing to go.
Director John Langs does a fine job with the pace of the piece and has assembled a superb cast to tell this dreary tale. And the set from Carey Wong is a wonderful mix of practicality surrounded by looming depths. But it's that ever-frustrating story that leads me back to asking "why?"
As I said the cast is top notch. Chisholm takes on the anguish and desperation of the character with aplomb and delivers a magnificent arc of this woman with nowhere to go. Kennan manages a stunning turn of a man whose moods and rationality can turn on a dime. Ziman as the duplicitous buyer lets loose some borderline creeptastic moments but never shows all his cards til the very end. Jordan and Jones bring in some much needed grounding and levity to the piece keeping it from going too dark. And Suzanne Bouchard steps in for one scene as a suspicious wife and delivers a glowing and engaging performance.
The show does manage a few interesting twists and the characters and dialog are engaging but it's that futile, ever deepening plot device that just feels like 90 minutes trapped in a black hole of "life sucks". I appreciate the intent of the journey but it's not a trip that I really want to take or find necessary. With my three letter rating system I give "Bethany" a MEH+.
"Bethany" performs at ACT through May 4th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.