What could you possibly have in common with that baggy-pantsed, slouching, backward-visor-wearing, straight-up gangsta kid at the bus stop? Nothing? Think again. 14 Faces, written and performed by Denver native Ted Bettridge, examines the human link between the likes of suburbanites and derelicts, the haves and have-nots.
"You are about to meet the fourteen faces that changed my life," Bettridge announces in the opening lines.
His monologues probe the lives of everyday people, whom Bettridge describes as "the prophets of the mundane." The performer fills the shoes of streetwise philosophers to discover the overlooked beauty hidden in their lives.
Center stage is an unassuming bus boy, whose world-peace musings include inviting the United Nations to a huge house party at the White House. "I'd get 'em all into this big room and have the doors slam shut, with juicy dope fed in through the air ducts. Then we could all just kick it with some killer White House eats and get to know each other. Ya know, we're all pretty much the same."
With a swift on-stage costume change, Bettridge transforms into a young African-American man, recently released from prison, fluidly rhyming in hip-hop prose with his hands emphasizing a verbal beat. He recalls a poster of Lil' Kim that was a beacon of liberty in his cell. "So many people take freedom for granted, I'm tellin' you. You'd all appreciate it a whole lot more if it ever got taken away from you."
Bettridge twists and contorts into a cast of distinct players from a Los Angeles neighborhood, including a woman stricken with cerebral palsy, an Irish immigrant and an elderly black man reared in an age before the Civil Rights movement. Each of the characters talks of conquering life's tragedies, something Bettridge knows well.
A graduate of the National Theatre Conservatory, Bettridge made a go of acting in Los Angeles and quickly landed a job at the Cannes Film Festival. "Finally, I arrive in my gated parking lot in just the right neighborhood. What's the gate for? Who are we keeping out, our neighbors?"
Less than a year later, he found himself sitting on a lumpy secondhand couch -- unemployed, divorced and broke. He rummaged through another gray, hazy day in Silver Lake, California, an eclectic if decaying suburb hinged onto the City of Angels, to find answers. "L.A. is a black hole of humanity," Bettridge says off stage. "Every stereotype you have ever hoped was not true is true in L.A."
In a crumpled pair of jeans, Bettridge discovered a twenty-dollar bill that would lead him to a place of divine inspiration, a neighborhood greasy spoon by the name of Eat Well. "It was the first day I ever really opened my eyes," Bettridge says. "I suddenly saw this amazing group of people, and they were extraordinarily comfortable." He began taking notes. "I wasn't happy and wanted to get myself out of my own hole. So I just started asking them, 'What makes you happy?' I received some incredibly interesting answers -- some mildly twisted and some sad, but all incredibly interesting."
His show was scripted in a matter of weeks, and Bettridge performed an edited version to rave reviews at a Chicago solo festival last March. "In this play, I am the speaker of the unseen, the voice of all the people you would be scared of, or just never think to talk to. Not everyone who has seen it agrees with what I have to say."
The play has recently caught the eye of a New York producer, so Bettridge is relocating to the Big Apple. "This has ended up being such an interesting lesson," Bettridge says. "I gave up all of my possessions and just started talking to people, and walked away with a completely renewed confidence in humankind."