“Godot” Cancellation Inspires Provocative Queer Play


Photo by Mallika Pandey, Photo Editor

College second-year Diwe Augustin-Glave; College third-years Sofie Rejto, Lauren Elwood; Anna Aubry, and College fourth-year Clarissa Heart begin Collective Rage with larger-than-life gestures.

It seems appropriate that Oberlin’s production of the queer feminist play-within-a-play Collective Rage was born of unfortunate patriarchal circumstance. About three months ago, guest director Tlaloc Rivas cast five female students in Waiting for Godot, subverting expectations for the all-male play. However, the Oberlin Theater department changed plays for the Winter Term show after receiving a letter from playwright Samuel Beckett’s estate stating that they did not authorize Oberlin’s all-female cast (“All-Female Waiting for Godot Cancellation Sparks Collective Rage,” Nov. 15, 2019).

When Godot was canceled, Rivas worked along with the scenic designer, costume designer, and managing director to find a new show. The play had to fit the original actors in Godot, with the exception of one actor who dropped out, and an additional actor that was cast later. The play also needed a simple set and costumes, because the design team only had two months to prepare everything. The team settled on Jen Silverman’s Collective Rage, a play about five queer characters who are all named Betty. The show opened last night in the Irene and Alan Wurtzel Theater.

“[Collective Rage] speaks to, I think, what many underrepresented communities, particularly women, feel at this point in time in our social and political sphere,” Rivas said.

Third-year Theater major and cast member Anna Aubry said she was disappointed about the Godot cancellation, but she is excited about the representation of women and genderqueer characters in Collective Rage.

“Unless a classical work is reimagined to bring something new to the social spectrum that we’re on now, I’m uninterested in the ways that a lot of classical works are very non-inclusive,” said Aubry. “The women and genderqueer characters in this play are loud and assertive and know what they want and go after it.”

Specifically, Aubry mentioned that, during her time here, she has only been able to audition for one mainstage production written by a woman, a surprising fact at an institution as liberal as Oberlin.

Collective Rage is an appropriately cutting-edge play for our uber-liberal school. Each character in the play represents a specific brand of queerness. Power-suit-wearing Betty 1 (College third-year Sofie Rejto) describes herself using a phrase like, “very rich, very vegetarian, very gluten-free, very alcoholic, and very rich.” An anxious and subordinate housewife Betty 2 (College third-year Lauren Elwood) can’t stop looking at her vulva in a hand mirror. Betty 3 (College second-year Diwe Augustin-Glave), is a femme lesbian who quits her Sephora job and attempts to become the voice of a generation. Dressed in jean chains, flannels, and tank tops, Betty 4 (Aubry) is hopelessly in love with her childhood friend. Betty 4 is often seen working on her truck alongside Betty 5 (College fourth-year Clarissa Heart), a genderqueer boxer with an undercut.

The rage these characters feel — from their matches in the boxing rings to their frustrated descriptions of their “beige” and “indigestive” husbands, to the way that they grapple with their sexual orientation alone with only a sock puppet to talk to — all comes from a mixture of sexism and homophobia.

These queer feminist themes may seem like difficult topics for a cisgender male director to address. However, Rivas has worked to acknowledge his positionality in the rehearsal room.

“I knew that after choosing the show that my prime directive would be to empower the cast to take ownership of the play and to create space for them,” Rivas said. “I always come from a place of intersectionality and making sure that I know that I’m not the expert in the room.”

Aubry said that Rivas made the rehearsal experience a comfortable environment, despite her original concerns about a man directing this show.

“I trust Tlaloc as a director, but I definitely was skeptical of [him] putting on a play about women and genderqueer characters [as a] male director,” Aubry said. “I think in this case, I felt comfortable with him as a director because I knew that it was going to be … an incredibly collaborative environment in terms of the five members of the cast really being able to chime up and say [when] something felt like, ‘That doesn’t feel realistic to me. That doesn’t feel right to me’ and … him really listening to our feedback in this production.”

Aubry also pointed out that Rivas gave the actors notecards at the beginning of the rehearsal process. He told them that, if there was anything uncomfortable that they didn’t want to bring up with him, they could write it on the notecard and give it to the female stage manager or dramaturg, who would bring up concerns with Rivas anonymously.

College fourth-year Carrie Babigian, who was the assistant director, explained that Rivas also created a safe space by teaching the students about fight choreography and intimacy coordination. Rivas choreographed the stage kiss to make sure all of the actors were comfortable with it. He taught Babigian to do intimacy and fight calls so that she could do so every night without him in the room.

“For the intimacy call, you do a check-in, just like, ‘How is everyone feeling?’” said Babigian. “‘How are you feeling about kissing each other? Do you want to do [the kiss] or do you want to just do a stand-in?’ And then they check in about ‘no-fly zones,’ which is just where you don’t want to be touched.”

Rivas hopes that the cast can use these intimacy choreography skills in other productions. Ultimately, his goal as a director is to leave the cast with skills to uplift other marginalized voices in Oberlin theater.

“I will never experience what it’s like to be a woman,” Rivas said. “But I can be an ally, and I can be a champion for [women] in the best way that I can and empower others in the room and … go forth from this experience and … and be advocates for that kind of work to continue here.”

As for the future of Oberlin theater, Aubry believes Collective Rage is a step in the right direction.

“I’m really excited for what this play means for the department and a shift in whose voices are being celebrated and who is able to be seen and heard on stage,” Aubry said.

Collective Rage runs from Thursday, February 6 to Sunday, February 9 in the Irene and Alan Wurtzel Theater. Tickets are $8 for students, staff, and seniors, and $10 for the general public.