Pawtucket’s Burbage Theatre Stages RI Premiere of Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties

Raunchy and relatable show takes on gender, identity, and the complexities of longing


In the intimate space of the Burbage Theatre Company in Pawtucket, Jen Silverman's Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties comes alive with a vibrant and thought-provoking performance that pushes boundaries while amassing hearty audience laughter throughout. The black box setting of this show succeeds in bringing the viewer smack dab into the New York City setting as actors make use of space, making their entrances and exits right alongside seats. Directed by Allison Crews, this production delivered a cheeky and daring take on gender, identity, and the complexities of longing.

Collective Rage unfolds as a theatrical exploration of five different women, all of whom are named Betty, navigating their desires and frustrations in a world that often restricts and defines them. Each Betty’s character embodies a unique archetype of femininity, from the glamorous but repressed suburban housewife Betty 1 (personified with exceptional bravado by Melissa Penick), to the “butch” and bold Betty 5 (whose duality of brashness and sensitivity is brought to life by Anna Basile). As the story unfolds, characters collide and intersect, finding that within their distinct experiences of femininity, they have much more in common than we are initially led to believe.

Crews’ direction is particularly effective in balancing the play's raunchy humor with relatable moments of self-reflection. The comedic timing is spot on, eliciting genuine laughter from the audience while never shying away from the deeper emotional undercurrents of the characters' journeys. The use of the theater space was inventive, with scenes seamlessly transitioning from one Betty's world to another, creating a dynamic and engaging experience.

The standout performances of the ensemble cast truly brought the production to life. Amie Lytle’s Betty 2 undergoes the captivating shift from a meek and unconfident woman who defines her identity through a lackluster marriage with her husband, to commanding the stage with the ferocity of a lion punctuated by wild guitar riffs. In the digital age, there was something all too realistic about Daria-Lyric Montaquila’s portrayal of Betty 3, a charismatic and fierce woman convinced that she is already a famous celebrity influencer; she learns a valuable lesson from Nina Giselle’s Betty 4 (perhaps the most earnest and relatable Betty of all), that “everybody loving you equals nobody really loving you.” The chemistry between the Betties was palpable, providing the audience with the genuine sentiment that this ensemble relished in the time they spent together preparing this performance.

The production design was also a highlight, enhancing the play's thematic richness. The team achieved the creation of versatile sets and ambiences that transformed effortlessly to evoke different settings, from uppity Manhattan brownstone dinner parties to intimate bedrooms. The lighting design complemented the emotional heartbeats of the play, shifting smoothly between stark brightness and evocative shadows.

What makes Collective Rage truly resonate is its fearless exploration of gender and desire. Silverman's script confronts stereotypes and assumptions, inviting audiences to question their own implicit biases and celebrate individual authenticity. The play doesn't shy away from complexities; instead, it revels in them, presenting characters who defy categorization and can simultaneously communicate a range of identity and temperament.

Moreover, the Burbage Theatre Co.'s commitment to presenting innovative and diverse work is commendable. By staging Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties: 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*ssy And It’s Sort Of Like That, they continue to foster important conversations about representation and inclusivity in the arts. The production's impact extends beyond the stage, offering audiences an opportunity to engage with timely and urgent themes as many Americans are still grappling with acceptance of the increasingly diverse nature of identity and trueness to oneself that more and more people are starting to feel comfortable being transparent about.

As the lights dimmed, the audience was left contemplating some plot points, which are left seemingly unresolved. This was not merely a play; it was a boisterous call to action for authenticity and self-discovery. With its bold performances, witty humor, and unapologetic spirit, this production was a testament to the transformative power of the theat-ah. It reminds us that breaking boundaries starts with embracing our true selves – and celebrating the beautifully disjointed journey we undergo to get there. For showtimes, tickets, and more, visit Burbage Theatre, 59 Blackstone Avenue, Pawtucket


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