At the District Theatre, Jen Silverman’s “Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties,” in the hands of Betty Rage Productions, features less rage and more outrageousness — and I mean that in a good way.
Meanwhile, just down Mass Ave, Catalyst Repertory/Magic Thread makes a good case for small companies doing big plays with its take on Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
[Photos by Indy Ghost Light]
— The two productions take very different approaches to set design. “Collective Rage” offers a shoestring set that does what it needs to do but no more. But in its budget-conscience minimalism, it allows the focus to be almost entirely on the performers and the script. I’m not sure how it played in New York with name stars (including Dana Delany and Lea DeLaria), but I’m guessing, in this case, smaller proved better…and more charming.
— It’s easier to forgive the flaws in a play when tickets are only $20. Silverman’s play is scattershot, with many of the scenes feeling a bit like improvised sketches. In fact, in the lobby after the show, I heard some local theater pros wondering if some of it was, in fact, made up on the spot.
— That may largely be due to the wonderfully in-the-moment performance by Courtney McClure-Murray (pictured). A staple on the local improv scene, here she shines brightly, particularly in the play’s joyful final sequence which alone is worth the price of admission.
— Beyond improv, I’m not sure of her scripted credits because the production has one of those programs that doesn’t bother sharing actual theater bios but, instead, goes for the funny. (Granted, some of the printed program is actually funny.)
— So what’s the show about? Well, five people named Betty. Their relationships. Their desires. Their hang-ups. And their vaginas. The five flawed and somewhat clueless characters connect in various ways and end up, in a plot development that stretches credibility, in an amateur rewrite of the Pyramus and Thisbe scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
— The other four Betties are Tracy Herring, Jenni White, Kallen Ruston, and and Sarah Zimmerman. All have their moments, with Zimmerman scoring more laughs-per-minute than I’ve seen on stage in quite a while. Credit director Kait Burch for keeping the randomness of the script from splintering the production.
— Meanwhile, Catalyst Repertory/Magic Thread’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” is likely to reach sell-out crowds. That’s not just because it’s a rare local production of the masterpiece with strong performances, but also because the massive two-story set (for the Indy Fringe space) leaves little room for seats.
— The cast is lead by Sara Castillo Dandurand as Blanche (full disclosure, she recently appeared in my play “Rita From Across the Street), Jan McCabe as an unexploded bomb of a Stanley — who, of course, eventually explodes — and relative newcomer Anna Himes, who brings a compelling quirky combination of fearfulness and heat to Stella.
— The set is likely to impress but also annoy. Even from a relatively good seat, you are likely to miss some of the action. I had a good view of the poker game and the makeshift bedroom but couldn’t see anything going on in the bathroom, for instance.
— Although atmospheric songs were well-sung by Courtney Wiggins, I had some problems with the music used elsewhere, where it seemed to trivialize the drama and sometimes came across like the music in the SNL soap-opera parody “The Californians.”
— Overall, though, Catalyst’s production did what I think regional productions of classics should do: Remind us of why a classic play has earned that status, give a satisfying introduction to a great work to newcomers, and resist being a carbon copy of the performances familiar to some. I never felt like Dandurand, McCabe, or Himes were beholden to the trio from the iconic film version. They and director Casey Ross respected the writing and, at the same time, made the show their own. Three hours in their company was an evening well spent.
— I just wanted a beignet afterwards.