Review: ‘Collective Rage’ — a Terrific Play in 5 Betties
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, September 13, 2018
How many Betties does it take to make a great play? Five, if the new play from the MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel is any proof.
Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties by Jen Silverman, directed by Mike Donohue, is about five women, all named Betty, in various stages of rage. And also various stages of hilarity, clarity, alienation, recognition, revolution, brilliance, and absurdity.
The Betties are denoted by numbers: Betty 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. There’s not much in the way of set, but there are funny projections that introduce each of the nineteen scenes. The women bounce in and around and off each other like pinballs; I would describe all the different relationships but my head might explode in the process.
The nutshell version: Betty 1 (Dana Delaney) is a sleek wife in a little black dress who is rich in money and also fury thanks to her cheating hubby. Betty 2 (the wonderful Adina Verson) is lost and scared, sadly and hilariously confiding in her hand puppet that is, literally, her hand. Betty 3 (Ana Villafañe) has just quit her job at Sephora and will soon be a super famous…something. Betty 4 (Lea DeLaria), “butch as you can get,” wants to work on her truck and, even more, get with Betty 3, who seems to be losing interest. And Betty 5 (Chaunté Wayans), a “gender-nonconforming masculine-presenting female-bodied individual,” is fresh from her boxing ring, and ready to hook up with, back to the beginning, Betty 1.
It’s a little bit of she loves her but she longs for her but she lusts for her—kind of a Hermia and Lysander and Demetrius and Helena thing—which is appropriate considering that Betty 3 decides that her route to stardom is to stage the play-within-the-play from Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Pyramus and Thisbe,” which she calls “Burmese and Frisbee.”
There are plenty of laughs, since Ms. Silverman has a sitcom writer’s ear for a funny punchline. And there is much discovery: of anger and power and sexuality and, oh yes, of that “down there” that you need a hand mirror to meet. There are even moments of real sadness, as some Betties don’t get what they want, or need, or even deserve.
The cast is as snappy and clear as the simplified set, which drops chairs, balloons, and and anything else a scene might need into the waiting hands of a Betty. There’s a range of energy, from Ms. DeLaria’s direct stance to Ms. Villafañe’s fast-talking confidence to Ms. Verson’s deeply affecting torment. But no one is falling down on the job here. These Betties are punching hard at the script, at their lives, and at you. No audience rage here, just collective pleasure.
Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties presented by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street, running through October 7, 2018. Written by Jen Silverman. Directed by Mike Donohue. Cast: Ana Villafañe, Lea DeLaria, Dana Delaney, Adina Verson, and Chaunté Wayans.