“You’ve turned your whole life around,” a social worker said to America Ferrera’s character, Crystal, toward the end of Laura Marks’ new play “Bethany.” The scene feels more poignant than the social worker intends it to be, and it is wholly bittersweet after everything Crystal has endured in her struggle to change the hand she has been dealt. The audience may feel transformed, too.
From beginning to end, “Bethany” weighs heavily on the heart. Set in 2009, the play’s plot takes aim at the home foreclosures that swept across the United States over the past few years. Crystal, a Saturn saleswoman, pushes herself to the brink to win back custody of her young daughter. The supporting characters, from homeless conspiracy theorist Gary (Tobias Segal) to motivational speaker and prospective Saturn buyer Charlie (Ken Marks), serve as tests of will and endurance as the plot spirals to a tumultuous, revealing end that explores the lengths a person will go to survive.
After a slow start, “Bethany” unravels darkly and leaves behind a trail of emotional carnage. Between the lighthearted banter, the unavoidable tragedies seep through the cracks in the lives of Crystal and others, which grounds the show in a depressing reality.
Ferrera is exhilarating in the lead role. From the moment she appears on stage, Ferrera fits perfectly into the saleswoman mold, which her character embodies in all aspects of her life. With the support of a strong cast, Marks’ sharply written show palpitates evenly with a nearly sadistic flow between moments of lightness and darkness.
By the end of the show, everything has fallen apart, but the plot keeps itself masterfully intact. After two shocking, climactic moments, the overlapping of Charlie’s motivational speech with Crystal’s choked sobs creates a sickeningly tense scene that reflects the same balance in the characters’ own lives. The tough realities of life shatter moments of hopeful contemplation. “Bethany” is not for the faint of heart but, like Crystal herself, begs for an understanding of life’s necessary struggles when it may feel too difficult to give.
“Bethany” is playing through Feb. 17 at City Center Stage II, located at 131 W. 55 St.
A version of this article appeared in the Jan. 28 print edition. Brittany Spanos is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]