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SUNRISE BETTIES: Blood will have blood

by | Mar 3, 2024 | Review | 1 comment

Writing about Sunrise Betties is depressing, not because of the content, which includes drug dealing, police corruption, and a ridiculous amount of gore — but because it’s all such a mindless waste of time.

In Cheyenne Rouleau’s new script, which is set in the seventies, we meet Shirley, an older woman who runs an all-female gang, the Sunrise Betties, in East Vancouver. When Shirley goes out of town for a few days, she leaves Gwen in charge and things quickly go to shit. Unprovoked, two of the Betties attack a couple, and that triggers the wrath of the much larger and more powerful Rousseau gang. There are plot threads about straight and lesbian romance. And there’s a crooked cop. There’s also so much stage blood it must take up a healthy chunk of Itsazoo Productions’ budget.

It takes over two hours to plod through this and, for me, there was virtually no point.

Rouleau based her script, in part, on Aaron Chapman’s book The Last Gang in Town, which is about the real-life Clark Park Gang, a disorganized bunch of hoodlums who were active in the sixties and seventies. (They were not a female gang.)

One could argue, I suppose, that Sunrise Betties is an exploration of the early days of a particular type of corruption in Vancouver, but Sunrise Betties is fiction, so it doesn’t pack the punch of an exposé or actual history. What did I learn about corruption in Vancouver from this show? Sweet nothing.

And, frankly, very little in Sunrise Betties has the ring of authenticity; mostly, it just feels like an exploitation of violence for the sake of entertainment, for joy in the “audacity” of extremity. The night I was there, people were laughing at the deaths — and that seemed to be partly the point: at least one of those deaths is flat-out ridiculous.

The violence is also overlaid with sentimentality: as the bodies pile up, a gang member tenderly places a baseball bat by the side of one of her fallen comrades, a bat that comrade used to beat the crap out of people. This part is played seriously.

And there are a couple of nagging narrative questions that are never resolved. Given the amount of violence going down, the Betties are under threat from both the Rousseau gang and the police — no matter what deals they might have cut with either of them — so why do they all keep hanging around in the gang’s house like a bunch of sitting ducks, working out their psychodramas?

In the first act, you’ve got to wait way too long for the story to acquire any stakes. The second act ups the ante considerably and gets more dramatically taut and narratively intricate — so it’s better.

I’ve also got to say that, under Jamie King’s direction, everybody in the cast is acting their socks off. Kaitlyn Yott brings an effective combination of vulnerability and toughness to Beth, the new girl. Meaghan Chenosky’s Gwen is a maelstrom of emotion. Patti Allan plays Shirley with a chilling combination of reserve and menace. And Sebastien Archibald, who’s playing the cop, is so grounded that, as always, he is arrestingly watchable.

But what’s all this in aid of? In some ways, Sunrise Betties deals with the abuse and exploitation of women. The behaviour of some gang members can clearly be understood as a form of revenge. Maybe the play itself is a form of revenge, of catharsis. Maybe the whole point of this exercise is to reclaim space for female rage.

Still, for me, watching this as a man, my only current option, these ideas were obscured by the apparent joy — and stylistic incoherence — of blood-spattering transgression.

SUNRISE BETTIES by Cheyenne Rouleau. Directed by Jamie King. On Friday, March 1. Presented by Itsazoo Productions. At the Russian Hall until March 10. Tickets

PHOTO CREDIT: Patti Allan, Kaitlyn Yott, Kelsey Kanatan Wavey, and Meaghan Chenosky in a photo by Chelsey Stuyt

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1 Comment

  1. Susan

    I’m left wondering what the point is of this review. It is suspiciously harsh. The concerns over the blood, gore and violence are especially exaggerated.


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