LIVING WITH BETTY
nytheatre.com review by Liz Kimberlin
It was simple bad luck for both me and the stalwart cast of Living
With Betty that I was assigned to review their opening performance
August 9th. It seemed that everything that could go wrong (at least
technically) did go wrong; between the noisy window air conditioner
behind and the groovy 60’s soundtrack blasting from the amps, I had
trouble hearing accurately throughout this hour-and-ten-minute,
August 15, 2003
But somehow the plot of Living With Betty, written by Heather Benton based on a true incident in her mother’s life, remained compelling and not at all difficult to follow: a vivacious but enigmatic woman, Betty, insinuates herself into young widow Sally Su’s life and slowly but surely goes a few unwelcome steps beyond living vicariously through her. There is some lovely staging here of visual scenes combined with era music that deliciously captures the cheesiness of the 1960’s—most notably Betty’s outrageous international-spy-and-potluck-party by the pool. Phantoms mysteriously flit in and out of the action. There are inexplicable—and quite possibly gratuitous—non-dialogue fantasy sequences accompanied by lots of really cool smoke and fog.
All of the performances, especially from the women actors, appear to be polished and natural. And while everyone could have used either a mike or a few lessons in voice projection, it was obvious some respectable on-stage work was happening under very trying circumstances. Special kudos to Danielle Fink and Ashley Wren Collins as Sally Su’s protective best friends, respectively, the disapproving, paranoid Mavis and flaky but compassionate Beverly. Each gets the moment she deserves—quite literally—in the spotlight.
In fact, for all the tech problems that afternoon, I applaud the play for not falling into the category of a thinly-veiled movie script. Living With Betty is truly theatre that dares to embrace the theatrical. And for the title character’s theatre world of Munchausian delusion, it’s entirely appropriate.