America Ferrera has good-girl honesty that makes people want things to work out for whomever she is portraying. This was true in "Ugly Betty," and it is especially useful in "Bethany," Laura Marks' tough, disturbing and delightfully unsentimental new tragic-comedy at the Women's Project theater.
Ferrera plays Crystal, a single mother who lost her sales job and her house by foreclosure. Then children's services took away her daughter while she re-established herself. Without losing her resilient, aimed-to-please smile and business-chick suit, Crystal gets a job selling Saturns and breaks into one of the thousands of foreclosed houses in a 2009 subdivision. As this country's promises collapse around her, she reconciles the need to live with a paranoid squatter (Tobias Segal) and to negotiate with a man (Ken Marks), a motivational coach, who just might buy a car.
All this and much more unfolds at its own pace with a growing sense of mystery and dread in Gaye Taylor Upchurch's securely menacing staging. The cast for the start of the Women's Project's 35th season is first rate. The setting -- a generic kitchen that doubles as a car showroom -- feels less like a budget decision than a statement about the interconnection of personal and economic catastrophe.
WHERE Women's Project, 131 W. 55th St., Manhattan
INFO $60; 212-581-1212; womensproject.org
BOTTOM LINE Tough and bright Ferrera in a tough, bright new play