Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties by Jen Silverman
MCC production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street
BS Score Rating: B
Show-Score Rating: 82
Writing about “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties,” a MCC production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, poses a linguistic challenge. This is a play about women’s vaginas. Yes, a 90-minute exploration by five women named Betty of their genitals. But the real challenge in discussing Jen Silverman’s wacky play is the fact that word “vagina” is rarely uttered; this is a play about “pussies.”
Three of the five Betties are lesbians; the other two are exploring their options. The play is a series of intertwined scenes as the various Betties interact with each other exploring the meaning of “their organ.” To say that the play has a plot is a bit of a stretch, although the outlandish preparations by the five women for a theatre presentation does give some sense of direction to the action. However, it is quite clear that Ms. Silverman does not mean to abide by the Aristotelian model.
In fact, this play is written in that rarest of genres. It’s a travesty. That’s not a criticism; it is, in fact, a source of delight. A travesty paints an absurd or distorted representation of something, in this case the worship of the female sex organ. “Collective Rage” is very funny and totally off-the-wall. The play’s full title makes it clear how we are to take this 90 minutes of genital geniality:
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 read about Shackleton and how he explored the Antarctic?; imagine the Antarctic as a pussy and its sort of like that.
Clearly, Ms. Silverman does not expect the audience to connect the dots. We are just supposed to sit back and enjoy the antics of five actresses set loose in a hellzapoppin look at pussy appreciation. Dana Delany and Adina Verson are particularly good as the two women “in transition.” In the midst of hilarious awkwardness, each gives us a sense of the amazing discoveries they are making about their anatomy. Comedian Lea Delaria plays the butch lesbian, not exactly a stretch from her stand-up persona; but she never really projects the kind of authenticity that her character demands. Ana Villafane has the least believable Betty to portray: a beautiful model-type who decides she is going to write, direct, and star in a play and recruits the other four Betties to join her. Ms. Villafane doesn’t let credibility get in her way. She brings energy and determination to her Betty, giving the audience the delusion that the play is actual going somewhere – it’s not.
Director Mike Donahue has collaborated with a design team that captures the play’s inanity. On a blank stage, furniture falls from the ceiling, convoluted scene descriptions are projected onto the ceiling, and rap music accompanies antics. Only the title is a bit misleading unless you use the a more colloquial definition of “rage,” as in “my pussy is all the rage.”