Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Cloud 9 / Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops
Two Plays About Women's Issues
Studio Theatre / Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule


Beth Hylton, Felicia Curry, Dorea Schmidt, Kate Rigg,
and Natascia Diaz
Collective Rage

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Through a bit of serendipity, two Washington theater companies are concurrently presenting striking, non-realistic plays that showcase the roles of women in society. Studio Theatre is staging Cloud 9, Caryl Churchill's 1979 hit about imperialism and liberation, while Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has the world premiere of Jen Silverman's play with the full title Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops; 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.

Interestingly, both playwrights incorporate cross-dressing and roleplaying to make their points. Cloud 9 uses cross-gender and cross-racial casting to reveal who controlled the narrative in Victorian England, while the five women of Collective Rage are all avatars of the sexy cartoon character Betty Boop.

Cloud 9 director Michael Kahn, known for his work with the classics at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, finds the clarity in a tangled plot that upends expectations and goes to surprising places.

In the days of Queen Victoria, Clive (Scherer) is a proper gentleman who administrates a British colony in Africa. His wife Betty (Wyatt Fenner, a male actor) devotes herself to being what men expect her to be; his son Edward (Laura C. Harris) would rather play with dolls than shoot big game; and the native servant Joshua (Philippe Bowgen, a white actor) renounces his tribe and behaves (mostly) as if he were a white Christian. The audience sees the small cruelties and hidden rebellions before the family members do; that only happens with the arrival of explorer Harry Bagley (Christian Pedersen).

The second act picks up some of the same characters, now 25 years older and living in 1979 London. The confusions multiply as daughter Victoria (Harris) deals with her nauseatingly solicitous husband Martin (Pederson) and potential lesbian lover Lin (Joy Jones); Victoria's brother Edward (Scherer) wants domesticity and his lover Gerry (Fenner) doesn't; and Betty (Twyford) tries to cope with an unfamiliar society and new (or no) rules.

The indomitable Twyford triumphs in three roles (she also plays a self-willed Victorian widow) and Scherer reveals both the childishness beneath Clive's bluster and Edward's sensitivity. Bowgen gets a chance to show off in the second act as Lin's hell-raising little daughter. Luciana Stecconi's scenic design encapsulates both the crumbling splendor of the British Empire and the flash of swinging London.

Silverman, like Churchill, integrates shock and wonder into her scenes of five women discovering who they really are and how they relate to each other. Director Mike Donahue brings out the quirkiness of these women and keeps the laughs (and explicit language) going without turning them into caricatures.

The setting is contemporary New York City. Betty 1 (Beth Hylton) is a rich, bored wife trying to deal with a vague discontent. Her friend Betty 2 (Dorea Schmidt) is utterly repressed and sometimes talks to her own hand. Betty 3 (Natascia Diaz) is a Latina lesbian who falls under the spell of the "thea-tah." Betty 4 (Kate Rigg) is butch and enjoys working on her truck. Betty 5 (Felicia Curry) has been to prison and runs a boxing gym. They meet at dinner parties, at the gym, while fixing trucks, and at rehearsal for the play Betty 3 has decided to stage.

While the women create a strong ensemble, the standout performances are Diaz, whose character discovers her inner diva as she goes along, and Schmidt, whose character undergoes a gradual but complete transformation from one scene to the next. Kelsey Hunt's costumes clearly delineate each character while also making a sly statement about the uniformity of men's suits.

Studio Theatre
Cloud 9
September 7th – October 16th, 2016
By Caryl Churchill
Clive/Edward: John Scherer
Betty/Gerry: Wyatt Fenner
Joshua/Cathy: Philippe Bowgen
Ellen, Mrs. Saunders/Betty: Holly Twyford
Maude/Lin: Joy Jones
Edward/Victoria: Laura C. Harris
Harry Bagley/Martin: Christian Pedersen
Directed by Michael Kahn
Metheny Theatre at The Studio Theatre 1501 14th St. NW, Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-332-3300 or www.studiotheatre.org


Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops
September 12th – October 9th, 2016
By Jen Silverman
Betty Boop 1: Beth Hylton
Betty Boop 2: Dorea Schmidt
Betty Boop 3: Natascia Diaz
Betty Boop 4: Kate Rigg
Betty Boop 5: Felicia Curry
Directed by Mike Donahue
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or www.woollymammoth.net


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