Chicago Theatre Review
Desperate People Doing Desperate Things
Bethany – Gift Theatre
Crystal, as portrayed by the exceptionally talented young actress Hillary Clemens, is poised, articulate and wears a smile as bright and polished as her sales pitch, when convincing a customer that he ought to purchase a Saturn. By all evidence, this is a lady who’s got it all together. No one would ever guess that this attractive, professional woman with the shiny veneer, the sunny disposition and confident outlook is one of this country’s many homeless.
We first meet Crystal dragging a rolling suitcase as she unlocks and enters through the glass sliders of a condo. Audiences assume she’s just returned home from a trip. She looks at the mail on the counter, checks the water and plugs in the refrigerator. Then, in the dim light, she hears a noise coming from the other rooms. Suddenly she’s confronted by a burly-looking man wielding a broken two-by-four. Scruffy, dirty and possibly insane Gary, formerly a military man, has been squatting in the vacant condo for some time now. Once our eyes become accustomed to the darkness we notice that there’s no furniture in the kitchen. Then we learn that Gary’s not the only squatter; Crystal has also broken into this recently foreclosed exurb condo. Surviving just on the edge, neither has a legal right to this place and so, despite Gary’s demented raving about the downfall of capitalism and government conspiracies, Crystal rolls up her smiling lips and convinces Gary that they should share the space…at least until someone throws them out onto the street.
With limited cash, no savings and nowhere to go, Crystal has very few options. Having lived both out of her car and at a homeless shelter, Crystal desperately needs to convince a social worker that she’s a normal, responsible woman with a good job and a home. The reason is to regain custody of her five-year-old daughter Bethany. Charlie, a smarmy motivational speaker, may be the key to Crystal’s needs. He seems to be interested by her sales pitch for a high end model car, and the commission she’d earn would provide the money needed to solve most of her problems. The trouble is, Charlie isn’t all that he appears to be and this is when the play becomes even darker. Add to this mix Shannon, Crystal’s less-than-accommodating supervisor, who seems to constantly be the bearer of bad news, Toni, Crystal’s social worker and Patricia, a frustrated woman with her own issues to complicate Crystal’s life.
Collaborating once again with playwright Laura Marks (last season’s excellent, mysterious “Mine” was one of this company’s finest productions), director Marti Lyons has staged a taut, thriller of a story that will keep audiences guessing and on the edge of their seats throughout the 90-minute production. Played upon the versatile, yet economical set, designed by Courtney O’Neill, and illuminated with eerie shadows and indirect lighting sources by Michael Stanfill, this production couldn’t be more frightening. Hillary Clemens, so sensational in this theatre’s production of “Mine,” also directed by Ms. Lyons, is perfection in this role. She’s matched by the entire cast, particularly Paul D’Addario as Gary and James D. Farruggio as the despicable Charlie.
This production is one more reason to make the journey out to Jefferson Park’s growing arts district. The Gift Theatre is a little-known gem that consistently produces terrific productions that are worth seeing and enjoying. For an evening of psychological drama, complete with thrills and chills and a message that’s relevant to today, this is one play that audiences should make every effort to see.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 2-November 23 by The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-283-7071 and by going to www.thegifttheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.