REVIEW: “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” is a must see!
What’s in a name?
Well, the full name of Jen Silverman’s blazingly brilliant and uproariously funny new comedy that opened last week at MCC Theater goes as follows: “Collective Rage: A Play In 5 Betties; In Essence, A Queer And Occasionally Hazardous Exploration; Do You Remember When You Were In Middle School And You Read About Shackleton And How He Explored The Antarctic?; Imagine The Antarctic As A Pussy And It’s Sort Of Like That”
There are certain plays that speak with such a clear, resonant, original, and specific voice, that are so boldly and wildly unexpected, that you emerge from the theatre in a haze of euphoria, tempted to stop strangers on the street, grab them by the shoulders, and implore them to get tickets. “Collective Rage” is one of those plays.
By curtain call you are likely to have the sensation of feeling like you now possess a giant secret— that your life can be defined as “BCR” (before “Collective Rage”) and “ACR” (you get it). Good theatre can do that. And this is, hands down, one of the best plays I’ve seen all year.
What’s in a name? It turns out: everything.
In 90, high-voltage, fast moving minutes, “Collective Rage” delivers piercing portraits of five women named Betty. Three are “femme”, one a butch lesbian, and the fifth a “gender-non-conforming masculine-presenting female-bodied individual” who is “comfortable with female pronouns”.
As their lives intersect across 19 scenes—each introduced with a blunt title projected above the stage (for example: “Bettys 1 and 5 Discuss Tits and Rage”)—they come to impact each other in life changing ways, coping with existential questions of identity, loneliness, purpose, and love.
Betty 1 (Dana Delany) is a rich Upper East Side-dwelling woman in a loveless marriage who channels her rage at the gym. Betty 2 (Adina Verson, “Indecent”) is lonely, sheltered, and uptight; she’s never seen her own vagina, but that’s about to change. Betty 3 (Anna Villafañe, “On Your Feet”) is a confident, fast-talking queer Latinx “voice of her generation” who quits a job at Sephora after being transformed by going to the “Thea-Tah”. Betty 4 (Lea DeLaria, “Orange is the New Black”) is a tattooed butch lesbian with a heart of gold who loves pussy and working on her truck. And Betty 5 (Chaunté Wayans) is our genderqueer Betty who runs a boxing gym and also loves working on her truck.
I don’t want to give too much more away, since the fun (and I mean FUN) of “Collective Rage” is riding the fast-moving rollercoaster of the story to its poignant finale. The driving force of the plot, though—which brings all our Betties together—is Betty 3’s decision to mount a devised piece of theatre inspired by her attendance at a performance of “Summer’s Midnight Dream” that “wasn’t really in English” and cost “eight nine bucks”.
Shakespeare’s play-within-a-play, “Pyramus and Thisbe”, becomes our own play-within-a-play—“Burmese and Frisbee” or “Pyramid and Thirsty” or “Penis and Thursday”—and each Betty makes her own discoveries about herself, her fellow Betties, and our world along the way.
The genius of Ms. Silverman’s writing—as smartly directed by Mike Donahue (“The Legend of Georgia McBride”) and joyously performed by this stellar cast—is that it is really funny, yes, but also grounded in truth. Each Betty presents real and raw experiences and emotions that are too often unvoiced and invisible in our rapidly moving culture. At its heart are the beautiful hearts of the Betties who are comical and human, a combination that reflects Ms. Silverman’s keen insight.
“Collective Rage” is a giant entrée of pure feminist, queer, intersectional theatre—a play that is so urgently now, so fresh and evocative, that it feels like nothing else I have seen on stage. It’s about time.
I smiled when I read that it premiered at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.—an importation regional outpost for cultivating bold new works—because it reminded me of several world premiere plays I saw there, like “Bootycandy” and “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play”, that standout as among the most exciting and original plays I’ve ever been fortunate to see on stage.
I hope “Collective Rage” is not just a sign of the times but of things to come—that these Betties are prophets of a new theatre.
What’s in a name? Find out for yourself.
Bottom Line: Jen Silverman’s “Collective Rage: A Play In 5 Betties” at MCC Theater is a blazingly brilliant and uproariously funny new comedy that serves up a giant entrée of pure feminist, queer, intersectional theatre. Smart direction and design, and a stellar cast, make this fresh, original, and urgently-now play a must see of the fall season.
“Collective Rage: A Play In 5 Betties”
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
New York, NY 10014
Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)
Opening Night: September 12, 2018
Final Performance: October 7, 2018