At the height of the action of Jen Silverman’s “A Collective Rage: A Tale in Five Boops,” one of the Boops joyfully exclaims “art is danger and profit!” The full title: “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 P***y and It’s Sort of Like That)” reiterates the play’s mission to explore the murky territory surrounding the danger and profit of self-acceptance.
Directed by Mike Donahue, whose worked with Silverman’s plays before, this play is about five women, all named after the cartoon character Betty Boop. They come together to perform a version of Shakespeare’s Pyramus and Thisbe from “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” except that none of them know Shakespeare or theatre well at all.
As usual, Woolly Mammoth created a technically astounding production.
Betty Boop 1 is a frustrated “very rich” housewife, played by Everyman Theatre’s Beth Hylton. Her character is the primary arc of the story, and Hylton does a splendid job of bringing that arc to life. Hylton’s Betty is a hawk, towering over the other Bettys. A great moment for her is when she plays the part of moonshine in Betty 3’s production of Pyramus and Thisbe.
Easily the breakout star of this particular production, Dorea Schmidt plays Betty Boop 2, a repressed housewife, more child than woman at times, who desperately wants to feel wanted, even by herself. She makes a complete dive into the world of the absurd world of the play. The ending belongs to Schmidt as she brilliantly draws the audience into a very intimate and gentle place, that is so rare in such a large venue.
Betty Boop 3 is bisexual, and the most in touch with her femininity, played by the extremely talented Natascia Diaz. In 2002, Diaz understudied Mary Elizabeth Mastratonio’s Aldonza on Broadway opposite Brian Stokes Mitchell in “Man of La Mancha,” and brings some of the fire of that character to her Betty. The play pivots around this character and her pursuit of the “thea-tah”, and it is her wit that draws us into the world of the play.
Kate Rigg’s Betty Boop 4 is genderqueer, but like Betty 2 is afraid and unsure of herself. She tries to hold onto things like her truck and her friendship with Betty 3 amidst the changing world. In one of the most humorous parts of the play, Rigg showcases her various impressions of different “walls.”
Betty Boop 5, played by Felicia Curry, is also genderqueer, a physical trainer and owner of a boxing gym, who just got out of prison. Curry blurs the line between masculine and feminine in this character. A particularly moving part is when Betty 5 uses her part as the Wall in Betty 3’s production of Pyramus and Thisbe” to express her affection for one of the Bettys.
As usual, Woolly Mammoth created a technically astounding production. The set, designed by Dane Laffrey, stays true to the chimeric nature of the play. For the most part, the set is static, with yellow paneling that looks like padding in a boxing gym, but it separates itself towards the end of the play into a more Brechtian style piece.
Colin K. Bills designed the lights and had plenty of room to play. “Rage” is one of those rare theatrical events where the lights get lines. In between each scene there is a projection that tells the audience what the next scene is going to be about, for example “Betty 1 holds a dinner party that Betty 2 attends.” It personifies the technical aspects of the show.
Similarly, Kelsey Hunt’s costume design is exquisitely inventive. The Bettys sport character specific theatre blacks, until adding splashes of color in the final scene when they have touched upon what’s important to them, i.e. Betty 3 gains a luxurious fur coat and Betty 4 gains some wild gold converse.
“Rage” is a play that boxes with the audience, sometimes playing offensive and defensive. But I think it comes to the realization, that there’s no one right way to be a woman, or indeed no right way to be a human being. Like Shackleton’s journey through the Antarctic, it’s about just that: the journey.
“A Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops” runs at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre until October 9th.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Adult Language and themes.
To purchase tickets, or for more information, click here.