The Gift Theatre. By Laura Marks. Directed by Marti Lyons. With Hillary Clemens, Paul D'Addario, James D. Farruggio, Susaan Jamshidi, Kirby O'Connell, Mary Anne Bowman. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Laura Marks's 2013 play opens with Crystal (Hillary Clemens), a smartly dressed woman carrying a rolling suitcase, jimmying the lock on a sliding door to gain entry to the kitchen of a seemingly empty house. Perhaps she's a real estate agent, you might at first think. But Crystal turns out to be a squatter.
It's early 2009, the height of the foreclosure crisis; Crystal has recently lost her own home, and this house—one in a sea of abandoned abodes in some unnamed suburb—was vacated recently enough it still has electricity and running water. But Crystal's not the first to lay claim to it; she's surprised by Gary (Paul D'Addario), a paranoid, people-phobic conspiracy theorist who's accustomed to "living under the radar." Desperate, Crystal talks him into a delicate agreement to share the space.
Bethany reunites Marks, Clemens and director Marti Lyons following last year's Mine, and like that play, it casts Clemens in the role of a mother driven by desperation to extreme lengths. Bethany, we learn, is the name of the daughter Crystal is trying to get back from foster care by setting up this fake residence, and Clemens gives a fascinatingly fine-tuned performance as a woman frayed at the edges, trying to get all her ducks in a row but the ducks keep running away.
Intent on making one last commission at the Saturn dealership where she's clinging to a job, Crystal goes to great pains to court potential buyer Charlie, an unctuous motivational speaker who she heard speak at a Holiday Inn. Charlie sells a kind of secular version of prosperity theology—the kind of 'tell the universe what you deserve and it'll come to you' philosophy that people will fall for when they've got little else to hang their hopes on.
But it becomes clear from the start that a new car isn't what Charlie's interested in. That Crystal takes the measures she does, from humoring Charlie to staying with the troubled and dangerous Gary to her more sensational actions late in the play, begins to seem less determined than delusional. Like her character, Clemens puts her all into selling us on Marks's model. But she can't quite close the deal.