Off-Broadway Review: “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties”

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David Roberts

  • Chief New York Theatre Critic

  • Outer Critics Circle / Drama Desk Member

By agreeing to carefully examine the sex-role stereotypes attributed to women, five disparate women named ‘Betty’ cautiously approach self-acceptance and self-understanding in Jen Silverman’s “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” at MCC Theater’s Lucille Lortel Theatre. Their collective rage about their loneliness, their fears, their submission, and their dismissions by men is a welcomed examination of gender and sexual status in the attainment and celebration of equality. Although Jen Silverman’s new play adds little in content to the discussion, her method(s) of developing her themes is/are somewhat unique and engaging.

The five Betties know each other and call each other ‘Betty.’ The audience differentiates them by their individual character traits and by the numbers 1 through 5. Betty 1 (a vulnerable and needy Dana Delany) and Betty 2 (a lonely and self-deprecating Adina Verson) are Femme, rich, married (to Richard and Charles respectively), and lonely. Their husbands are “busy” and inattentive. Betty 3 (a bold yet unfulfilled Ana Villafañe) is Femme and Latinx and exploring her potential as a playwright after seeing her first Shakespeare play. Betty 4 (a transparent and effaced Lea Delaria) is a tattooed Butch Lesbian who loves to work on her truck and is “too often ignored.” And Betty 5 (an ebullient and charismatic Chaunté Wayans) is Genderqueer (masculine-of-center), tattooed, and owns her own boxing gym. Betty 5 likes to work on her truck with Betty 4 who has a huge crush on her.

On Dane Laffrey’s almost-bare stage, the 5 Betties collide in a variety of settings in the present in New York City: at dinner parties; the boxing gym; the garage; and alone. They share their loneliness, their rage, their misunderstandings about themselves and one another, and their desires for community and acceptance and love. The playwright uses the vagina as the trope for this exploration into identity and awareness. In the process, the Betties least likely to “connect” become lovers while the remaining Betties transcend their earlier misgivings about self to achieve new levels of recognition.

One wishes to know more about each Betty to feel for the conflicts they face and fully appreciate the plot these conflicts drive in the ninety minutes of frenzied activity on the stage. The importance of the play’s themes is incontrovertible; however, is Ms. Silverman’s approach to these ideas pretentious or prophetic? Do chairs and truck engines falling from the ceiling advance the dramatic progression? Do audience members need to crane their collective necks to read large text projections to understand what is “about to happen.” And if those projections are in fact necessary, has the playwright done her best to define the play’s characters and actions?

Humor tempered with caring is necessary to pull off something as zany as “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties.” Less humor and more opportunities to care about these Betties seems needed here for a more satisfying result.

 

COLLECTIVE RAGE: A PLAY IN 5 BETTIES

The cast of “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” features Dana Delany, Lea DeLaria, Adina Verson, Ana Villafañe, and Chaunté Wayans.

The creative team for “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” includes scenic design by Dane Laffrey, costume design by Dede Ayite, lighting design by Jen Schriever, sound design and original compositions by Palmer Hefferan, projection design by Caite Hevner, and casting by Telsey + Company/Adam Caldwell, CSA, William Cantler, CSA, Karyn Casl, CSA. Production Stage Manager Lori Ann Zepp and Stage Manager Veronica Lee.

“Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” runs at MCC Theater’s Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street through Sunday October 7, 2018. For tickets and more information, visit www.MCCTheater.org. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo:  Chaunté Wayans and Dana Delany in “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties.” Credit: Joan Marcus.