Welcome to the Jungle

​Review of Bethany at ACT by Kally Patz

Act Bethany Emily Chisholm At The Smeared Door C Chris Bennion 1024X682

Bethany documents a jungle. It’s setting in suburban America may seem sterile. Those who live in it slick back their hair and put on suits. They follow its rules and rarely stray from protocol. They do and say the “right” things. They’re always courteous, always civilized.

But beneath the niceties and small talk, the intention of the jungle—the savage relationship between predator and prey—is very much alive. It’s easy to get lost in the chaos of economic free fall. And those who don’t make the sale, who don’t pry open the door, are liable to slip through the cracks.

Bethany opens on a motivational speaker preaching to an invisible crowd. Swathed in red and blue light, he tells them that they just have to want it—the house, the car, the girl. He wears his own five-bedroom home complete with a Jacuzzi like a badge: He’s got it.

Though you’d never know it by her blue blazer and primly ironed curls, Crystal (Emily Chisholm) has lost it, all of it. The Saturn dealership where she works is closing shop. She’s lost her home. And Child Protective Services won’t return her daughter, Bethany, until Crystal can pull her finances together.

As Crystal walks through the door and opens the fridge, she looks like a typical businesswoman plucked from an office. It’s only when she discovers a homeless man in the house that we see. Crystal can’t call the police because it’s not her home. And though she may separate herself from the squatter, Gary (Darragh Kennan), through pretenses, the distance between them isn’t as vast as she imagines.

Crystal is only hanging on by appearances, by a cheerful smile and a spritz of breath freshener. She convinces herself that with one final sale she can reclaim it all—daughter, house, and job. She just needs to convince the representative from Child Protection Services that her life is stable. She just needs to persuade a new and by all appearances wealthy customer that he needs a luxury car.

At one point Gary asks Crystal why she can’t just get her daughter, pick her up from school and run for the woods. Crystal responds in a voice that makes it clear she’s addressing a mad man. The suggestion is absurd, beyond consideration. And yet, Gary’s suggestion is so much simpler, so much more logical than the bluffs and schemes of those around him. That he is treated as insane and perhaps dangerous shows just how convoluted the “civilized” world has become.

Chisholm masters the sickly sweet pretenses of her peers and the rawness beneath. Her curls slowly deflate. She removes her blazer, then her blouse. The quick, violent drumming between scenes and fluorescent white of the dealership feel like hysteria as the 90-minute play barrels forward, unstoppable. There is no intermission, no reprieve as it approaches its inevitable end—an act that defies civility, the jungle laid bare.


Bethany
ACT
April 11 - May 4

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