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Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties

Theatre Review by David Hurst - September 15, 2018

Chaunte Wayans, Dana Delany, Lea DeLaria,
Ana Villafane, and Adina Verson
Photo by Joan-Marcus

After giving their longtime playwright in resident, Neil LaBute, the heave-ho in February (which still remains unexplained), MCC may not have the debut of his Reasons to Be Pretty Happy to close their 2017-18 season. But they have plenty of reasons to be extremely happy with Jen Silverman's Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties that opened September 12 instead. A wacky meditation on feminine angst in our Trumpian age, Collective Rage looks at the intersection of race, class, gender identity and sexual politics through the prism of five women named Betty. They've got a lot to say and watching them meet and compare notes is a hilarious delight.

Betty 1 (a soigné Dana Delany) is a rich socialite in a bad marriage, tantalized by the possibility of a lesbian rendezvous. Betty 2 (the endearing Adina Verson) is a friendless innocent, more scared of her genitals than she is of her shadow. Betty 3 (a sensational Ana Villafañe) quits her job at Sephora to pursue the lucrative career of ‘being a celebrity' because she's already conquered being a lipstick lesbian. But Betty 4 (Lea DeLaria), who has a serious crush on Betty 3, is fearful of this new career plan because it means less time to be her BFF. She confides all this to Betty 5 (Chaunté Wayans) while they work on their truck engines together. Away from the garage, Betty 5 owns and runs a boxing gym where she meets Betty 1 who's come to learn how to defend herself. Dinner parties and comedy ensues. Not to mention the word ‘pussy' which you'll hear about one-hundred times, one-hundred and one if you count the shows subtitle: 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.

Ridiculously, Betty 2 thinks her ticket to celebrity is a theatrical production, which she'll direct, based on the Pyramus and Thisbe subplot in A Midsummer Night's Dream. She casts the other Betties as Prologue, the Wall, the Lion and Moonshine and rehearsals are a predictable disaster. Even funnier are the projected subtitles for each scene (courtesy of Caite Hevner) that combine profound ideas with raunchy humor. Villafañe (who starred as Gloria Estefan in On Your Feet) and Verson (so wonderful in Indecent) are standouts in a show with the rich roles for all five women. Verson even concludes the show with a sweet song in her bra and panties, a paean to Betty 2's self-realization, which comes out of nowhere but charms nonetheless.

Cleverly directed by Mike Donahue, who's helmed many of Silverman's plays including the September 2016 premiere of Collective Rage at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C. (as well as MCC's recent smash hit, The Legend of Georgia McBride), MCC's Collective Rage has been given a lavish production. Dane Laffrey's honeycomb-ceiling set provides plenty of opportunities for sets and furniture to fall out of the sky and into the Betties' world, and Dede Ayite's playful costumes shimmer under Jan Schriever's savvy lighting. Granted, Silverman's play needs some fine-tuning and fleshing out. It's easy to enjoy it in Donahue's inventive production with a strong cast, but one suspects it would pale in lesser hands.

Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties
Through October 7
MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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