Read about NYC's best theatre and dance productions and watch video interviews with innovative artists
Two of the actresses in Collective Rage discuss their roles
When's the last time you saw five diverse women headlining a major play? I mean a group of actresses truly heterogeneous in terms of ethnicity, age, identity and even shape? Adina Verson (of Broadway's Indecent) never had until she was cast in Jen Silverman's Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties, currently running at MCC Theater. "I've never been in a room where we're all so different, body-wise and background wise, and our processes are so different," she says. "That's been real exciting."
As the title indicates, the show features five distinct Betties. Betty #1 (Dana Delany) is wealthy and straight; Betty #2 (Verson) is lonely and needs friends; Betty #3 (Ana Villafañe from On Your Feet!) wants to be famous; Betty #4 (Lea DeLaria) is a butch lesbian in love with Betty #3; and Betty #5 (stand-up comedian Chaunté Wayans) is gender nonconforming and fresh out of rehab. Yet despite their dissimilarities, the Betties share a dissatisfaction with their lives and the desire to bust out of their patriarchy-imposed boxes.
If it sounds a bit overwhelming (the play's official subtitle is "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"), don't be put off. Despite its serious themes, the show is a comedy and the stars are adept at navigating its nuances and tonal shifts.
Below, Verson and Wayans break down their respective Betties.
Diep Tran: Which Betty in Collective Rage most accurately reflects who you are in real life?
Chaunté Wayans: It's the one I'm playing. There's a lot of me in there. I have also been to rehab, and I've tried to pretend to be somebody and indulge in things that I thought would protect me. And then coming to a point where I actually realized that I needed to change and there's something better out there.
Adina Verson: I relate to Betty #2 so much. She reminds me of myself as a child. I had a lot of anxiety as a kid and I have these visceral memories of being so excited and enthusiastic about things. Growing up in the '90s, enthusiasm was never cool. I really relate to this idea of how you're supposed to be cool and in control, and if you have any extreme emotion and it comes out, it can be viewed as being stupid, you can be viewed as being less than. I feel like a lot of my younger life, especially in becoming an actor, was about saying, 'Fuck those shoulds. I'm going to stick to what I'm actually feeling and, in the long run, that's gonna be better for my life.'
Tran: Collective Rage is about breaking out of the boxes we are placed in. Has there ever been a time that you felt boxed in?
Wayans: When you're a gay comic, they want to put you into that box. I could be talking about anything but if I mention my lifestyle, then I'm labeled. I also get a lot of, 'How come you don't wear any dresses? You would look so pretty in a dress. You ever thought about wearing pumps?' Even if I decided to wear pumps, I would look like a baby giraffe trying to walk around.
Verson: I started out in musical theatre and that's very boxy -- you're either an ingenue or a soubrette. It was very difficult for me to figure out what my place was in the world of theatre when I felt like I didn't belong anywhere. You’re also supposed to dress a certain way. As a woman, I'm supposed to show a little cleavage or be feminine, or I shouldn't cut my hair because then it takes me out of the possibility of certain roles. But as I start to be in more productions, and more people in the theatrical community know who I am, I am able to be more myself. I believe that the more yourself you can be, it will benefit your work.
Tran: How could theatre and popular entertainment better represent women?
Verson: I think we're on our way. On TV it's happening with shows like GLOW and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. They're starting to show different kinds of women and different kinds of body types. I feel like we're moving in the right direction but we have further to go. But the stories that are starting to be told, especially Off-Broadway, we're exploring different gender identities and sexuality and what it means to be a woman. It's a really exciting time.
Wayans: I would say hiring women who are women, who are diverse. There're writers who are LGBT, there're actors who are LGBT. I think people keep trying to find somebody who doesn't even understand our world to put together a story of what they think it is. Just find people who know that world because they do amazing things. That's why everyone should come see Collective Rage. It's five different women and I'm pretty sure that you will relate to one of us in some way and we'll make you laugh.
To read about a student's experience at Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties, check out this post on TDF's sister site SEEN.
Top image: Chaunte Wayans and Dana Delany in Collective Rage: A Play In Five Betties. Photos by Joan Marcus.