Imagine a hilarious mash-up of “The Vagina Monologues,” “The Real Housewives” and “Orange is the New Black” with a little “Kiss Me, Kate” thrown in and you’ve got queer playwright Jen Silverman’s “Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties.”
Further, if the word “pussy” makes you uncomfortable, you definitely need to buy your tickets today to the Florida premiere by Thinking Cap Theatre at the Vanguard in Fort Lauderdale.
Meet the Betties: Betty #1 (Ann Marie Olson) is a frustrated, affluent Upper East Side housewife. Betty #2 (Betsy Graver) is a slightly unhinged socialite who is invisible to her husband. Betty #3 (Vanessa Elise) is a blue-collar, bisexual Latina with a flair for the dramatic. Betty #4 (Gretchen Porro) is a butch lesbian who likes to tinker with her truck. Betty #5 (Carey Brianna Hart) is gender non-conforming, female identifying, something, something who just served a sentence in prison.
Their unlikely paths cross and the quintet winds up together to put on a play under the direction of Betty #3, who answers the call of the “thea-tuh,” after attending a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a wealthy white woman.
The subtleties of Shakespeare are not surprisingly lost on Betty and she enlists the others to portray a “wall,” “prologue,” “lion” and more in “Summer’s Midnight Dream.” It’s not classical theater by any stretch, but plenty of drama ensues as the women confront their situations.
Betty #1 vents her anger in boxing lessons coached by Betty #5. Betty #4 gets jealous over Betty #3’s newfound interest in culture. Betty #2 discovers her pussy and its power. Still sound confusing? It’s really not as Silverman weaves the women’s stories together over 100 minutes and one act. (Each character’s costumes are also color coded for simplicity—thanks to a clever idea from costume designer/director/co-soundscape and projection designer/artistic director Nicole Stodard.)
Will this show appeal to all audiences? Probably not, but it’s smart and, for the largely female audience at last Sunday’s matinee, seemed to ring true as it brusquely hammered away at the dated gender stereotypes that are so pervasive in American culture (and highlighted by introductory cartoons featuring America’s iconic busty bimbo, Betty Boop).
While Silverman’s sprawling script could be trimmed just a bit, the winding and elongated journeys of self-discovery each woman takes are perfectly conceived and, under Stodard’s direction, masterfully acted.
Olson and Graver offer punctuated, often pained performances and Porro inserts well-timed and much-needed comic relief. Hart delivers the most honest moments, while Elise is refreshing and just plain fun to watch.
“Collective Rage” is an empowering play and this production—along with Thinking Cap’s ongoing, year-long “Gender and the Pulitzer Prize” play reading series—cements the company’s position as the region’s (unofficial) feminist theater company.
Thinking Cap Theatre presents Jen Silverman’s “Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties” through June 4 at the Vanguard Sanctuary for the Arts, 1501 S. Andrews Ave. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $35 at ThinkingCapTheatre.com.