Five very different Bettys learn to love their pussies, and each other, in Collective Rage: A Play In Five Boops, a tangy new Jen Silverman comedy that may not be to everyone’s taste, but offers enough delicious dialog and tasty performances to keep adventurous Boston Court audiences entertained and ultimately maybe even quite moved.
Eschewing the realism of her The Roommate, recently at South Coast Repertory, playwright Silverman opts for a highly stylized approach this time round as she introduces us to her five Bettys, each of whom comes to understand (if she hasn’t done so already) that women are a girl’s best friend … and even better as lovers.
Stylishly garbed, tightly wound Betty 1 (Elyse Mirto) might seem to be leading the life of Mrs. Riley on New York’s Upper East Side, but her husband is a cheat, her friendships so superficial you could hardly even call them friendships, and the nightly news crowds her brain with one upsetting headline after another.
Betty 2 (Courtney Rackley) isn’t doing any better than Betty 1 in the marriage-and-frends department. The pretty if a tad mousy blonde hasn’t had sex with hubby for years and the only one to whom she can reveal her many frustrations is her hand. (Think Shari Lewis’s Lambchop minus the puppet.)
Sexy Latina Betty 3 (Anna Lamadrid) may have things going for her bisexually, but making up Sephora customers provides no more excitement than the other Bettys’ day-to-days, that is until she finds herself transformed by a night at the Thea-Tah. (That’s how she heard it, that’s how she says it.)
Betty 4 (Karen Anzoategui) needs hardly define herself as “genderqueer,” her t-shirt, jeans, 1950s pompadour, tats, and spunky attitude speaking louder than words, that and the fact that she likes nothing better than working on her truck with best bud Betty 5.
Fresh out of the slammer (a stay she thoroughly enjoyed), the muscled, even more heavily tattooed Betty 5 (Tracey A. Leigh) is so macho a boxing gym trainer, Betty 4 seems positively fem by comparison.
Over the course of Five Boops’ nineteen scenes, each one featuring a clever projected title (Betty Boop 1 Is In A Rage, Betty Boop 2 Acts Out Her Feelings With A Puppet Because She Has No Real Friends, Betty Boops 1 and 5 Discuss Tits and Rage), the five Bettys throw each other dinner parties, rehearse the Shakespeare-inspired play Betty 3 feels compelled to write, direct, and star in, and not only talk about pussy, they explore it, hand mirrors being just the start.
Lindsay Allbaugh directs the above festivities with abundant ingenuity and flair, aided and abetted by a couldn’t-be-better cast and as striking a production design as production designs get.
Mirto, like her four equally sensational castmates, may start with a cliché (uptight angry rich wife) but adds layer upon layer of depth as Betty 1 discovers things about herself that she never even thought dwelled beneath the surface.
It’s equally thrilling to watch Rackley’s Betty 2 blossom from wallflower to radiant bloom. Playing against butch stereotypes, the thoroughly winning Anzoategui turns Betty 4 into a bit of a boyish nerd. Leigh is downright astonishing in her transformation into hyper-male (yet secretly vulnerable) Betty 5.
As for the fabulosa Lamadrid, Betty 3 might first come across your stereotypical “hot tamale,” but her effervescent joie de vivre is infectious, and never more so than when celebrating “the Thea-Tah” by recreating the tale of “Pyrex and Tambourine” from Shakespeare’s “Summer’s Midnight Dream.”
Scenic designer François-Pierre Couture’s deceptively simple-looking brick-walled set conceals wonders, and looks quite stunning with Jenny Smith Cohn’s multitude of often unexpected props, Hana S. Kim’s stylish projections (including a nostalgic black-and-white Betty Boop montage), and Karyn D. Lawrence’s striking lighting.
Ann Closs-Farley’s black-and-white-and-red costume palette is an inspired choice, with Peter Bayne’s sound design and original music adding punch throughout.
Casting is by Meg Fister. Alexandra Hoover, Rebecca Larsen, Fayna Sanchez, Chelsea Kurtz, and Sarah Hollis are understudies.
Rebecca Wear is assistant director. Leigh is movement director. Maggie Swing is production stage manager.
Collective Rage may not end up every theatergoer’s cup of tea, but for those willing to take the journey, it makes for one outrageously funny, button-pushing, scabrous, thought-provoking walk on the wild side.
The Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena.
March 2, 2107
Photos: Ed Krieger