Theater Review: COLLECTIVE RAGE: A PLAY IN 5 BETTIES (Desert Ensemble Theatre in Palm Springs)

Post image for Theater Review: COLLECTIVE RAGE: A PLAY IN 5 BETTIES (Desert Ensemble Theatre in Palm Springs)

by Jason Mannino on November 10, 2023

in Theater-Palm Springs (Coachella Valley)


Desert Ensemble Theater (DET) launched its 23/24 season tonight, November 10, with Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties, a play so provocative that some publications won’t publish its full title: 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 You Read About Shackleton And How He Explored the Antarctic? Imagine the Antarctic As a Pussy and It’s Sort of Like That.

Yeah, it’s sorta like that, and so much more.

Amidst a political landscape in which women’s bodies seem to be constant fodder for legislative control, it is quite refreshing to witness five women speaking about their bodies, their relationships, and their sex lives in ways that are hysterical, candid and undogmatic. While the play is feminist and utterly political, it is joyful to see these characters rage and love and explore their bodies and make theater and bad choices without calling out the politics. In 19 sharply written, short scenes, playwright Jen Silverman moves, inspires and cracks us up in this play with 5 characters, all named — you guessed it — Betty.

Betty 1 (Tammy Taylor) is a rich Upper East Side-dwelling woman in a loveless marriage. She declares herself outraged, largely because her husband is cheating. Betty 2 (Angela Landis) is lonely, sheltered, and uptight. She has to use a hand puppet to process her feelings — and she’s never seen her own vagina. Betty 3 (Shelby Victoria) is a confident, fast-talking queer “voice of her generation.” Betty 4 (Katrina Dixon) is a tattooed, butch lesbian — she loves pussy, working on her truck, and has unrequited love for Betty 3.  And Betty 5 (Ashton Loya), who is a “gender-nonconforming masculine-presenting female-bodied individual … comfortable with female pronouns,” also likes working on her truck alongside Betty 4. She owns a boxing gym and ends up becoming Betty 1’s trainer.

Worlds come together when Betty 3 is transformed at the “Thea-Tah” seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream — what she calls “Summer’s Night Dream.” She subsequently quits her job at Sephora to become an influencer and develop her personal brand by directing her own show based loosely on “Pyramus and Thisbe,” the play-within-a-play in Midsummer. She casts all the Betties, each of whom undergoes a personal transformation in the process.

Kudra Wagner daringly directs the stellar actresses in this fast-paced 90-minute romp. While all these actresses are individually in top form, I commend Wagner for eliciting an ensemble performance that is one of the best I have seen in recent years. The women play together beautifully on an effectively understated set designed by the director,.

This production conveys the essence of Desert Ensemble Theater’s mission. It is innovative, thought-provoking, bold. In the face of white, male political (and sadly successful) attempts to control women and their bodies, this play reiterates the importance of celebrating women, their bodies, relationships, their truth, and their stories.

photos by Nathan Cox

Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties
Camelot Theaters in the Palm Springs Cultural Center
2300 East Baristo Road in Palm Springs
Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 & 7:30; Sun at 2
end on November 19, 2023
for tickets ($37.50 plus online service fee), call 760.565.2476 or visit Desert Ensemble

Leave a Comment