America Ferrera, who many came to love as Ugly Betty in the hit television sitcom, takes a totally different spin as the heroine in the new Off Broadway drama/dark comedy, Bethany by Laura Marks, and she’s just as likable.  We feel and root for her, despite desperate measures.

When we meet her financially-challenged character Crystal, she is making her way into an empty home as a squatter, and encounters Gary, a militaristic oddball, who has already claimed the abandoned property as his chosen place of residence, since other vacant homes in the largely foreclosure area don’t have electricity or running water. Though initially at odds, Crystal ultimately enlists Gary to assist her in making the house a home.  Crystal is desperate to gussy things up, and forge a lease in her name, in an effort to regain custody of her five year old daughter, Bethany.  She needs to prove to Social Services that she is a capable mother.

She has a job as a car salesman at Saturn, and when she encounters Charlie (who at times addresses the audience like a motivational infomercial), she is willing to stop at nothing to get him to purchase the car of his dreams, so she can earn her commission.  He is her potential meal ticket, albeit one with a roving eye for her, and in the process, angers Gary, and things turn ugly at home, sweet, home.

Tobias Segal as Gary is riveting from the get go.  Ferrera’s Crystal is an appealing, empathetic character.  Myra Lucretia Taylor is effective as as the social worker, and Emily Ackerman provides needed levity as Shannon, Crystal’s boss at the Saturn dealership, that is on the verge of closing. Kristin Griffith, as Charlie’s wife, becomes a surprisingly pivotal character to the plot, and turns in a strong performance.

Bethany provides a vivid commentary on how life can take a turn at any moment, even leading us to make unexpected choices when you feel as if your back is up against the wall. Lauren Helpern designed the sets, Sarah Holden, the costumes, Mark Barton, the lighting, and Leon Rothenberg, the sound. Jess Johnston is managing the stage. Directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch, Bethany is playing at Women’s Project Theater’s new home, New York City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street.  It runs 90 minutes, no intermission.




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