Last Friday, Oct. 4, Eldred Theatre opened a show that was both familiar and foreign. Much of this amounts to new theater department faculty member and director Kevin Inouye. He started teaching movement and stage combat classes last fall for undergraduates and Master of Fine Arts in Acting students at Playhouse Square. His focus areas are evident in “Bethany.”
“Bethany” has everything: physical violence, blood, smeared feces and intimacy. While the play is a dark dramady similar to last fall’s “Reckless” (directed by David Vegh), Inouye has brought a fresh and active voice for what it means to come see theatre on campus. His newness is matched by a group of underclassmen actors.
Gabriella O’Fallon, a first-year student, plays the leading woman, Crystal. Sarthak Shah and David Kim are both second-year students with single previous Eldred credits, and Lexi Scott is a second-year making her debut as an actress at Case Western Reserve University.
Eldred veterans Talia Eschenbaugh and Harper Case, third and fourth-year students respectively, complete the cast.
The play itself is ambitious to say the least. The two-page director’s note in the playbill covers the production’s exploration of “the Great Recession … prosperity gospel, self-help, and motivational speaking, conspiracy theories, mental illness, social safety nets, pretense and the American dream … toxic masculinity, earlier forms of feminism” and so on. The backdrop is the 2008 recession.
Crystal is a car saleswoman who faces impossible odds. She is homeless, lacks resources and lives out of her car—until she breaks into a foreclosed house, where she meets Gary, the weird kid from high school who grew up to be a conspiracy theorist and occasional bather.
Crystal is especially motivated and as audience members, we watch her story develop. O’Fallon plays her with ease. The character and how she is portrayed are—in a word—strong. Forget what Disney taught us about damsels in distress.
On the other hand, Gary is more like the fragile princess locked in a tower. “I only go out when I need to,” he says. He makes plans without following through; Crystal neurotically attacks all of her obstacles. Could they save one another? Watch to find out.
Crystal also meets Charlie, a motivational speaker who could be the sales commission Crystal needs to bring herself out of poverty. Kim, who played Charlie, had the particularly challenging job of portraying a character three to four times his own age. From the back row, there were not any noticeable aids from age makeup nor gimmicky props like a cane or monocle.
Case played the other elderly character seamlessly, perhaps due to her more comprehensive theater experience. Eldred puts on shows with one third of the characters over sixty-years-old, which can be a challenge for the young actors.
“Bethany” was a tight show—it neither needs nor gives an intermission. It was amazing to see the script come to life. The fight scenes were attention grabbing and well thought out, and they fit in well with the dialogue.
The relationship portrayed by Shah and O’Fallon is compelling. It is interesting to see how their unlucky circumstances affects how they perceive one another.
Playwright Laura Marks could be commenting on how male-female relationships are not so cookie-cutter, which is an inherently striking contrast to a largely domestic setting. Even though the scene transitions were on the longer side, there are some moments that you will not want to miss in “Bethany.”
Come see “Bethany” this Friday or Saturday at 7:30 p.m. or Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students or free if you get a complimentary ticket from a cast member.