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“Bethany”: A slice of Americana most would like to ignore.

Jennifer Ferrin as Crystal in Laura Marks' "Bethany"now playing at the Old Globe through Feb. 23rd
Jim Cox

"Bethany"

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San Diego, CA---When something doesn’t touch us personally, oft times it’s difficult to feel the full impact of say the homeless, jobless,less fortunate. It’s not turning a blind eye it just doesn’t live our collective consciousness. On the other hand if that was your fortune, or misfortune, you have to live it every day.

In Laura Marks West Coast Premiere of her new play, “Bethany” now showing through Feb. 23rd on the Sheryl and Harvey White Stage of the Old Globe Theatre, the impact of today’s economy and the devastation it visits on its citizens is being presented in living color; no holds barred. Director Gaye Taylor Upchurch manages to keep the tension taught while allowing her characters latitude to bring Ms. Marks’ story to light.

Crystal (Jennifer Ferrin) sells Saturn cars. On her last job, (that she lost) according to her, she was selling Ford and was employee of the month two months running. Now she is back hustling Saturn’s and is barely able to keep her head above water, but remains optimistic on the outside. Her entire world depends on ‘closing the deal’. Soon enough this dealership will close, but she doesn’t know it yet.

She is bone broke and on the verge of being out on the streets again. She has just settled into some new digs (it’s actually one of many foreclosures in any neighborhood) and is ready to set up housekeeping when she meets up with her roommate, Gary (Carlo Albán), who is a walking time bomb. He rants about the downfall of capitalism, the toxins of the military complex, the fate of animals living in a crowded society and on and on. If she had her head on straight, she would have been out in a heartbeat, something Gary offers. “You could live in the park”.

The house still has running water and electricity. Gary eats ‘C’ rations from the Army–Navy store (‘they last forever’) and is somewhat of a hermit. They share a space together but don’t live together, if that makes sense. He was squatting there first and took the ‘room upstairs’ and she gets the one downstairs, ‘the living room carpet is really soft’. Their relationship is tenuous to say the least.

She seems to have a bit of money for cleaning supplies, some rental furniture, just enough to make the place look livable for the social worker Toni (Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson) to report back to Social Services that Bethany, her five year old daughter will have a safe place to live.

Bethany is now in foster care as both were found living on the streets in her car. The homeless shelter was too full to accommodate them. Social Services took her daughter and now it’s up to her to prove that she is stable enough to have her daughter back with her.

When we see her next at the car dealership she is with a customer, Charlie (James Shanklin) who from all indications, is ‘very interested in buying the ‘red sporty Sky Redline’ fully loaded. Prospects of getting her little girl back look good and Crystal is on the fast track, she hopes, to making a comeback as things are moving in her direction in a positive way. Would that it could be that easy.

A bit about Charlie: Charlie is a middle-aged guy who sells hope in the form of motivational seminars. He is what he calls a “Transformative Motivational Speaker”. We first see him standing in front of his bathroom mirror practicing his spiel. You’ve heard the talk, ‘listen to what I have to say and your lives will be changed forever, yadda, yadda, yadda. He calls it ‘synchronicity”.

Yup! We now find him at…the Saturn dealership with a wandering eye for Crystal who is so caught up in her job of selling a car that she fails to pay attention to the intensions of her potential client.

Tasked with a fragile balancing act to get and hold her life together, Crystal is seen maneuvering through a maze of challenges; holding on to a job, keeping Charlie at bay, one way or another, managing Gary’s frightening outbursts, coming face to face with Charlie’s wife, Patricia (Amanda Naughton) keeping her manager, Shannon (DeAnna Driscoll) convinced that she can do the job and finally (but certainly not least) satisfying Toni’s questionnaires along with convincing child protective services that she is a fit mother.

Who ever said that they would do anything to keep their family together, should think twice about taking that literally.

Crystal is one of those statistics that we keep hearing about every time the list of those living on the fringes becomes public. We tisk, tisk, wonder when government agencies will finally kick in and assist, as the numbers keep growing longer. There’s nothing wrong with assistance. There is something terribly wrong with being so frightened of losing your precious child that you will do anything and everything to prevent that from happening.

Working with The Women’s Project Ms. Marks has honed in on a critical problem we have in this country. Like Crystal, so many are living on the brink of ruin. Ms. Ferrin’s Crystal shows what she has many creative tricks up her sleeve; some work, some not so much, but don’t tell her she’s defeated. Her performance is picture perfect of someone so determined to succeed that one has to wonder what power drugs she is on. On the other hand, one wonders what other choices she might have had.

Judging by his looks Carlo Albán’s Gary would be intimidating to anyone in their right mind. How Crystal was able to sleep at night was a mystery to me. Yet, his character is almost comical when listening to him spew his vitriol while circling the wagons. And when he poses as the plumber in her house to satisfy the social worker, it’s downright funny.

James Shanklin’s Charlie is the perfect sleaze ball. One would never assume subtlety to be his ace in the hole, but Crystal is so determined to make a sale she just about breaks all the rules especially in Gary’s eyes.

Local artists Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson’s Toni and DeAnna Driscoll’s Shannon are perfect as the weary and worn social worker and the cynical dealership manager. Amanda Naughton’s Patricia tries to keep it cool as she confronts Crystal with a sharp blow as to the true nature of her down on his luck husband, but folds after…well I won’t spoil the whole story.

Set in the round some scenes are more difficult to see but Lauren Helpern’s set design gives an accurate picture of a deserted house not ready for prime time. The Saturn logo is perfect. Japhy Weideman’s lighting design keep us pretty much in the dark when the characters are in the home but turns up the volume at the dealership. Sarah J. Holden’s costumes are suitable and Leon Rothenberg’s original music and sound design complete the technical aspects of the production.

Flight engineer J. David Brimmer’s fight scenes were hidden from my view during the altercation between Crystal and Gary, but that was OK because from the outcome, it sounded and felt pretty brutal. Yes, there is confrontation, some violence and blood.

In the program notes playwright Laura Marks shares her experience of both she and her husband being laid off from their jobs and the psychological affects it had on their family. When one is living the American Dream and unaware that millions more are living the American Nightmare, it’s incomprehensible to imagine the things they might do to survive; things that under ordinary circumstances, one would never consider entertaining.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb. 25th

Organization: The Old Globe Theatre, Conrad Prebys Theatre Center

Phone: 619-234-5623

Production Type: Drama

Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park

Ticket Prices: Start @ $29.00

Web: theoldglobe.org

Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre