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Review: Theatre en Bloc’s “Bethany”

Staff Writer
Austin 360

They say that desperate times call for desperate measures, and that’s a clichéd but accurate synopsis of Laura Marks’ “Bethany,” playing through June 7 at the Long Center’s Rollins Studio Theatre.

Produced by Theatre en Bloc, the show is beautifully put together, offers critical commentary on our contemporary moment and is intense albeit somewhat unsatisfying in the end.

Marks’ script masterfully doles out pieces of the narrative a bite at a time, keeping the energy enticing and crafting a (mostly) smooth dramatic arc.

In this production, the first 70 minutes of the show are great, but the turn things take toward the end rather veers off the rails in terms of believability.

Hit hard by the economic downturn, a struggling car sales-woman, Crystal (Lara Wright), finds herself in deep trouble. After losing her house, she and her daughter were turned away from the shelter and forced to sleep her car. Of course, Child Protective Services was unsympathetic and has taken Crystal’s daughter (the titular Bethany) into custody. We meet Crystal as she takes her first step into murky waters by breaking into an abandoned, recently foreclosed-upon home.

Under Jenny Lavery’s direction, Wright’s performance doesn’t quite manage to balance her character’s desperation with the requisite duplicity. Crystal’s anxiety infuses each of her scenes, even when she tries to switch into sales-mode and manipulate the people around her. As a result, although she may hold onto our sympathy, we don’t see a sufficiently gradual build to her ethical concessions, and her transition to blackmailer comes off as abrupt and somewhat flimsy.

As the get-rich-quick circuit speaker (Charlie), however, Rick Smith’s smarmy chauvinism becomes gut-wrenchingly creepy as the narrative unfolds. Similarly, Derek Kolluri lets his portrayal of the paranoid squatter slowly unfurl into a whole mess of crazy.

Even if the ending is a bit anticlimactic, Theatre en Bloc brings excellent production quality to the Rollins Studio space.

W.T. Bryant’s dynamic set design shifts us smoothly between the worlds of the play. Blake Addyson’s sound design and original music add excellent texture to the figurative stench of desperation hovering over each scene. And Joseph Garlock’s fight choreography makes the violent denouement wincingly realistic.

www.thelongcenter.org