The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review

" Fighting to survive. It doesn't bring out the best in a person."— Gary
Tobias Segal and America Ferrera
(Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
Playwright Laura Marks certainly backs up Gary the young man quoted above. Gary (Tobias Segal) probably drifted into poverty and disillusion long before the downward spiralling economy reached epidemic proportions. Her tense, terse play now having it's world premiere at Women's Project's new home, the smaller of the two venues at City Center, is set in one of the exurban Ghost Towns created by the mortgage crisis.

Crystal (America Ferrera), the hotshot young car salesperson has joined the masses of those fighting for survival more recently, but her situation is even more desperate than Gary's. She's still working (though strictly on commissions in a tough market, but has lost her home and lost her custody of her 5-year-old daughter, the play's never seen title character.

In a New York season awash in revivals taking us back to past eras of American life, Bethany is a refreshingly timely look at present day America. With America Ferrera in the leading role, this Off-Broadway premiere also boasts a star with considerable box office appeal (most notably as the far from ugly Ugly Betty. She happens to be terrific.

While Bethany is billed as a dark comedy and does have its share of laughs, this behind the headlines look at the fallout of long-term unemployment and a newly impoverished and often homeless middle class is very dark and depressing indeed. Actually, it's essentially a morality tale, using the stresses of the Great Recession with it's all too close resemblance to the Great Depression, to explore how desperation can make us act in ways contrary to what we know to be the right thing. But being a playwright and not a preacher, Ms. Marks has fashioned her story as a thriller and she does indeed ratchet up tension and suspense.

The basic setup has the earmarks of a totally unbelievable story line: Two strangers — Crystal, the very average, attractive single mom and Gary, the oddball loner with an anti-everything philosophical bent, have both staked out an foreclosed house in which the lights are still running as a temporary shelter. Instead of getting out of there as fast as her high heeled red shoes can carry her, Crystal chooses to believe Gary's assurance that he's not dangerous and stays as his housemate.In fact, she relies on him to help her carry out her desperate scheme to regain custody of her child.

Crystal's plan involves her making the empty house look occupied in time for a visit from a social worker who will or will not sign off on the return of her daughter. With abundant real life stories of people indeed becoming squatters in abandoned houses, living in cars, shelters, motels it is sadly not totally beyond belief that a middle class woman like Crystal could find herself homeless and that long-term hobo types like Gary, would seize on the foreclosure situation as a means of living indoors. Nevertheless, Bethany does require some willingness to suspend disbelief.

Lauren Helpern's two-tiered but basically all in one set allows the action to shift between the kitchen of the foreclosed house that Crystal and Gary occupy and the Saturn car dealership where she works, as well as a platform for several audience addressing monologues by Charlie (Ken Marks) the motivational speaker who's also her most promising customer for a big sale. The kitchen area which dominates the stage is furnished with the usual nuts and bolts counters, cabinets and appliances. However, it has no walls except for a sliding door and a window with a back panel with images of the empty surrounding houses to suggest the once populate development. The other interactions take place on an unfurnished area a step below. Costume, sound and lighting designers have also done good work.

There's plenty to maitain nonstop tension and suspens about how everything will turn out. For starters there's the question of whether Gary is really harmless. Then there's Charlie (Ken Marks-- the same last name is no coincidence. He and the playwright are married) the motivational speaker and potential source for a much needed hefty commission. His speeches and the way he comes on to Crystal somehow makes your skin crawl whenever he's on stage. Gary is strange, but the well dressed and apparently successful Charlie is Mr. Creep big time.

Adding to the the play's edge-of-the-seat elements, there's Crystal's obnoxious supervisor Shannon (Emily Ackerman) to make her life even more difficult and the visits of Toni (Myra Lucretia Taylor), the over worked social worker. Is she really going to buy into Crystal's facade of having arranged a safe home for her child?

As directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch the various tensions are built at just the right pace. and the actors allowed to make the most of silent as well as spoken moments. Ferrera, as already mentioned, is terrific in the exhausting, always on role of the desperate young woman whose super sales skills haven't kept her from falling into the American Dream-turned-nightmare abyss.

Ferrera has a fine partner in Tobias Segal who manages to make the young drifter almost likeable, yet with an ever present potential to have strangeness turn violent.

The entre ensemble is excellent. That includes Kristin Griffith as Patricia, a middle-aged woman who arrives late in the story for a single scene. Unfortunately, while she clarifies what makes the creepy Charlie tick, the Crystal-Patrica plot development comes off as forced and lacking in credibility.

It's in the last part of the play that Bethany suffers most from credibility lapses — including little things like china plates thrown on the floor but not breaking. And, while the final challenge to Crystal's moral resiliency and Gary's normalcy make for a bang-up finale, it leaves one wishing Ms. Marks had found a less contrived solution and managed a more conclusive ending. But then no one has yet found a conclusive ending for the changes that have befallen Americans like Crystal and all the other characters in this play.

Bethany by Laura Marks
Directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch
Cast: America Ferrera (Crystal), Emily Ackerman (Shannon), Kristin Griffith (Patricia), Ken Marks (Charlie), Tobias Segal (Gary), Myra Lucretia Taylor (Tony).
Sets: Lauren Helpern
Costumes: Sarah Holden
Lighting: Mark Barton
Sound: Leon Rothenberg
Stage Manager: Jess Johnston
Dramaturge: Megan E. Carter
Running Time: 95 minutes without intermission
Women's Project at City Center Stage II 131 West 55th Street
From 1/11/13; opening 1/20/13; closing 2/17/13.
Tuesday though Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:30pm
90 minutes, without intermission.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 1/19 press matinee
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of ¬†Bethany
  • I disagree with the review of   Bethany
  • The review made me eager to see¬†Bethany
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

Visit Curtainup's Blog Annex
For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Anything Goes Cast Recording Anything Goes Cast Recording
Our review of the show

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

©Copyright 2013, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from