Warning: This is NOT your typical play review.
By Neena Strichart
I have been intrigued by “Recommended for Mature Audiences” (RFMA) movie and play warnings since I was old enough to know about the birds and the bees. I remember wanting to see the movie Woodstock as a teenager only to be refused admittance– yet was allowed into another theatre the same day to see Not With My Wife You Don’t, starring Tony Curtis. Movie/theatre ratings still seem vague and arbitrary to me, nevertheless, the higher the warning the more research I do before viewing a production…in most cases.
In the case of Long Beach Playhouse (LBP)’s Betty’s Summer Vacation, although billed as a dark comedy, the title seemed so innocent that it did not throw up any red flags that would cause me to investigate the story line. In fact, I was eager to see something new and different. I invited my mother to be my guest and join me for the opening night performance along with a champagne reception and an opportunity to meet the actors. Upon arrival we were met with framed RFMA warnings outside of the theatre, on the playbill and several other places outside of the upstairs studio theatre:
“Recommended for Mature Audiences– The scope of this production may include content/themes considered to be of graphic nature; including but not limited to strong language, depictions of violence, sexual situations, substance abuse, etc. Such content may be considered unsuitable for minors/individuals sensitive to graphic depictions.”
I pooh-poohed all the warnings because I’m a bit of a bawdy gal, and Mom’s not easily offended, and I consider myself pretty much shock proof. All I can say to that is HA!
Not wanting to give up the entire plot, I offer the following…warning– do NOT read any further if you are a genteel type of individual.
Betty goes to a beachside cabin with her friend Trudy for a relaxing vacation. Sharing accommodations with them are Mrs. Sizemagraff (Trudy’s mother), Buck (an attractive surfer “dude” with sex on the mind), Keith (a mild-mannered possible serial killer), Mr. Vanislaw (a trench coat wearing flasher with violent tendencies) and a handful of voices coming from the wall.
Buck’s rather erect presentation of constant sexual arousal and the vulgar language throughout the production is nothing compared to the insinuation of decapitation, rape and various other acts of depravity. If all that is not enough to set heads spinning, the seemingly inappropriate laugh track is. The laughing during tragic events reminded me of how I felt while watching Mommie Dearest in 1981 at a local movie theatre. I was saddened by the audience’s laughter during what I thought were appalling depictions of Joan Crawford going on “no wire hangers” and midnight rose cutting tirades. I still wonder why so many of us laugh at others’ wretched behaviors. Betty’s Summer Vacation depicts this phenomenon and reminds us how many of us crave shocking news reports. We actually seem to want increasingly graphic details of horrid and depraved situations.
I am glad I saw the play. It was certainly off the charts when it comes to RFMA, but I must say I applaud LBP for taking a big risk in producing such a controversial piece of theatre. The actors did a marvelous job– mother especially enjoyed David Rusiecki as Buck (and told him so at the reception). And although the title is Betty’s Summer Vacation, I believe Margaret McCarley as Mrs. Siezmagraff stole the show. She portrayed her character as the poster child for egotistical sociopaths. And her multiple-personality-like performance during the mock courtroom scene was perfection. Congratulations to director Robert Craig for so skillfully bringing out the dark side in his characters.
Do yourself a favor and venture way outside your comfort zone and see Betty’s Summer Vacation– there’s nothing else like it.
The Long Beach Playhouse presents Betty’s Summer Vacation upstairs in the Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim, through Saturday, March 27. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8pm, and Sundays matinees begin at 2pm. General admission tickets are $22; seniors (60+) are $20 and students are $12.