It’s a sit-com in reverse — everything that looks normal and every-day turns out ghastly. This dark comedy takes potshots at the over-influence of the media and various clichés of popular psychology and Betty has the vacation from Hell, all of which could be interesting, but the characters and situations are so exaggerated, obvious and over-worked that it’s silly and irrelevant
Betty enters the breezy, appealing summer house for her summer share with Trudy who, however, talks a blue streak — oh oh, is this vacation going to be fun? The possibility remains but when Mrs. Siezmagraff, Trudy’s hated mother enters and blithely announces that — Dad (whom we fast find out has sexually abused Trudy) just having died — she’s staying here, too, we know bad stuff’s ahead.
Then comes the gay guy with a suspicious looking hat box (read: head box) and blood on his hands, and the super stud who’s colossally randy and with the size to go with it as we’re reminded again and again and again. Also on hand is an unappetizing derelict flasher whom Mrs. Siezmagraff has invited in for sex. Voices from somewhere above laugh with shrill cackles, comment, and egg on the characters to greater and great excesses — well, you never know what you get with a short-term rental.
Everything in this beautifully designed set of a summer house by the beach is at it should be with star fish motifs and blue sky vistas except for the tacked up sign over a far door that hangs askew — it looks like it could be read but — go close and it’s nonsense. This cleverly announces the theme of the play, the wacky absurdity within conventional norms — but then the set is much better than the play. Act I shows Betty, played with strength and a fine range of emotion by Heidi Schreck, holding onto stability amidst all these nut cases acting accordingly nuts which means that — accepting a prompt from the voices — she takes a long walk on the beach, leaving room for plenty of in-house sexual and murderous violence. The set piece is a game of charades — what else in a beach house share? — and as Betty says, never has the word “penis” been spoken with greater frequency.
In Act II the three “Voices” descend from above amidst breaks in the ceiling and plaster powder, looking something like space travelers, and are revealed as personifications of the media of sorts, voyeuristic, looking for distraction, and eagerly pushing everybody on to still worse to come. In a mock trial since, after all, violence has been done, Veanne Cox as Mrs. Siezmagraff plays Judge, Prosecutor and Witness with such wonderful comic timing that for awhile Betty’s Summer Vacation actually becomes funny. The play goes out with a bang and a whimper, both.
There is a reason to see the play: the excellent acting, and in particular the standout performance of Veanne Cox playing crazy-normal: that is, her responses to the goings on, including her own zaniness, would look totally normal if what was happening and what she was saying and doing weren’t wild and violent. I feel I didn’t need to see this play, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss her performance.
Bay Street, an outstanding regional theater, has gone a little off course in its first offerings this season but the next, Enter Laughing, should be great.
Betty’s Summer Vacation plays at Bay Street Theatre on the wharf in Sag Harbor, Long Island, through July 31.