Meet the Betties of Jen Silverman’s “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties,” a raucous feminist, lesbian, and genderqueer comedy about anger and love, on stage now at Mad Horse:
Betty 1 (Janice Gardner) is a rich, snooty, uptight, alcoholic white lady incensed about the world and her own boring, cheating, “beige” husband. So, she throws a dinner party for Betties 2 and 3.
Betty 2 (Marie Stewart Harmon), with a buttoned-up cardigan and nervous eyes, has no real friends. She’s shocked when fabulous know-it-all Betty 3 (Keela), a bisexual woman of color who works at Sephora, starts waxing euphoric about pussy. And when Betty 3 gives Betty 2 a hand mirror to check out her own, Betty 2 freaks: “What if it’s ugly? Or has teeth?”
Meanwhile, butch Betty 4 (Hayli Hu Kinney) quietly pines for Betty 3 as she works on her truck with quiet, commitment-allergic Betty 5 (Ophelia Hu Kinney), a gender-neutral male-presenting queer boxing instructor just out of rehab, who is bemused when Betty 1 suddenly shows up at her gym, raring to hit something.
The Betties converge through dinner parties and rehearsals for a “play-within-a-play,” in Silverman’s outrageous, smart, and radically tender comedy. Hannah Cordes directs an uproarious and moving production, with sound design by the kick-ass all-woman punk band Bait Bag.
As soon as “Collective Rage” ended, I wanted to watch it again.
Mad Horse’s ensemble of Betties is electric. Their swift, deft pacing is riddled with delicious inflections – an infinitesimal pause in a compliment, the quick turn of a voice from a whisper to a yowl. Each Betty begins seeming like a trope but opens into a fascinating, fluid person seeking happiness, love, and to be seen.
Gardner gives Betty 1 a haughty hysteria that opens shyly into curiosity, and Keela shows us the need beneath Betty 3’s bossy sass. Hayli Hu Kinney’s faux-tough Betty 4 has an inherent gentleness, while Ophelia Hu Kinney brings Betty 5 a graceful, preternatural perceptivity. And as Betty 2, Harmon animates a dizzying arc with astonishing highlights – a dialogue between Betty 2 and her own hand; an “erotic story about a lion” that gave me chills as Harmon swerved between the comedic and the poignant.
Silverman is a master of that swerve. The Betties play dress-up. Betty’s lion is too thin, sad, and waiting for rain. Betty’s pussy is a color she doesn’t know how to describe. All the Betties share a rainbow mound of ice cream. All the Betties are seen.
It’s gloriously cathartic. I left “Collective Rage” feeling like I’d just had a massage, a sauna, a drunken wrestling match, a spiritual epiphany, and a dance party at Bubba’s. Which is to say: So. Much. Better.
Spend your own ticklishly transformative night with the Betties. You’ll feel better, too.
Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud are household giants of psychiatry. But you may know less about Sabina Spielrein: Jung’s patient, then his student and lover, and finally a pioneering feminist psychoanalyst.
Now, Portland Stage Company presents an homage to Spielrein in the beautifully produced new musical “Sabina.” With Willy Holzman’s script, music by Louise Beach, and lyrics by Darrah Cloud, the show debuts under the direction of Danilo Gambini and Daniella Topol, with a superb live musical ensemble (directed by Bradley Vieth) and across-the-board vivid performances.
The set conjures the high marble walls of Zurich’s Burghölzli psychiatric hospital. Here, Jung (Philip Stoddard) and his colleague Binswanger (Jason Michael Evans) meet Sabina (Stephanie Machado), a catatonic 19-year-old patient in a white nightgown, leaning at an angle: a striking image of vulnerability, self-possession, and expectancy.
Jung, bright-eyed and boyish in Stoddard’s hands, seeks a patient for the new “talking cure” of his mentor Freud (Bruce Sabath, fluent in schtick and gravitas). Through music, myth, and (controversially) his own dream journal, Jung will see Sabina “awaken.”
Once awake, Machado’s Sabina is luminous and irrepressible, prone to giddiness but with a laser attention. As she pursues her own studies, she comes between Jung and Freud – and between Jung and his wife Emma (Sarah Anne Fernandez, poignantly), who has postponed her own psychiatric career for motherhood.
Sabina’s arc unfolds over two acts, many graceful songs rich in counterpoint, and some surprisingly punchy musical comedy tropes. In one number, Emma and Carl playact his first meeting with Sabina, taking turns portraying the catatonic patient. Freud, Jung, and Sabina sing of going to America “where the buffalo archetypes roam.” Freud even has a bit of a Borscht Belt vibe.
More affecting are the show’s fine lyrical moments. As Sabina projects herself into Jung’s dreams, we watch her mirror his simple gestures as he prepares for bed, silhouetted behind a scrim. And lighting design elegantly evokes the archetypes of Sabina’s trauma, as when a red circle of light makes manifest her recurring vision of fire.
So fascinating is Sabina that I would have loved to hear less about her and Jung, or Jung and Freud’s Oedipal rivalry, and more about the title character at the height of her own work.
In one of the play’s most powerful moments, Sabina warns against analysts playing God. Instead, she says, they must find God “in the individual mind” of each of their patients. She calls this an act of love.
Even now, it’s a radical and illuminating view, from a healer who still has much to teach us.
Megan Grumbling is a writer, editor, and teacher who lives in Portland. Find her at megangrumbling.com.