Kenn Parks & Katye Heim in Bethany. Photo courtesy The Bard’s Town.
By Laura Marks
Directed by Doug Schutte
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
What are you capable of when your economic stability is threatened? When your child is taken from you? How far would you be willing to go? In Bethany, Kentucky-born playwright Laura Marks poses those questions about an educated young middle-class woman, and her conclusions are not for the feint-of-heart.
We meet Crystal (Katye Helm) when she enters an empty house and encounters Gary (Kenn Parks), a disheveled figure who has been camping out in the upstairs bedroom. Although Crystal is professionally dressed, she is as homeless as Gary, and after some contentious exchange, the two strangers improbably come to an arrangement to share the house. Gary is very savvy about knowing how long they can expect to have electricity and water, suggesting he has a lot of experience as a squatter.
Crystal has a five-year-old daughter who was taken by Social Services after it was discovered they were living in a car. She works selling Saturn automobiles, but she hasn’t seen a commission in quite some time. She is hoping to land a sale from Charlie (Doug Schutte) an over-confident but unctuous personal empowerment lecturer.
A certain degree of trust and even loyalty develops between Crystal and Gary, and he agrees to not be an impediment to her plan to convince a social worker (Carol Dines) to reinstate custody of her daughter by pretending that she is renting the house they occupy.
There are a lot of plot holes here. I certainly hope that Social Services would require more evidence than they seem to accept here; a simple phone call or two would reveal the flimsy pretense of Crystal’s plan, and where are the beneficiaries of the house’s supposedly deceased owner, or at the very least a real estate agent who might be managing the property? Maybe it’s just the inevitable distance that this reviewer has from the experience of homelessness, but is it really this easy to live in an unoccupied home for a period of time without being discovered?
But certainly Marks makes her points about how easily we might sacrifice our moral compass when we are adequately threatened. There but for the grace of God… And one of the most interesting aspects of the story is how, in Crystal and Gary, she constructs such a contrasting, down-and-out pair. Gary is clearly mentally ill, but Crystal’s actions are driven by a different desperation, and the audience’s sympathy for Crystal comes under substantial challenge the further she slides down the slippery slope of degradation.
Opening night was marred by some lighting stumbles but the cast does good work. Katye Heim manages Crystal’s mercurial shifts convincingly, and Kenn Parks does some of his most interesting work as Gary. Carol Dines and Kimby Peterson are fine in their supporting roles, while Mandy Kramer brings an extra note of poignancy to Charlie’s wife, Patricia, by making her an expectant mother (by virtue of Kramer’s real life pregnancy). Director Schutte is perfectly cast as the scheming Charlie, even if his first night performance seemed beset by nervous mannerisms.
Bethany is dark comedy, nearly pitch-black in its tone, and, although written in 2009 in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. housing crisis, is no less relevant in today’s social climate. We are now in the 4th or 5th decade of the “homelessness” epidemic, but it existed in previous times without that label, which means we have come to accept it as commonplace. Its an easy, lazy assumption to infer that criminal behavior is a factor in not having a home; in Bethany, Laura Marks posits the notion that a previously upright citizen might be made to be a criminal because of losing their home.
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Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.