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It’s worth knowing that Bachelorette has made playwright Leslye Headland a very, very popular woman. This was the play, after all, that attracted Hollywood goofballs Will Ferrell and Adam McKay during its off-Broadway debut back in 2010, which in turn led to a film adaptation that premiered at Sundance earlier this year. Headland, now headed for stardom, went from black boxes to red carpets largely thanks to the ribald wit she displayed in Bachelorette.
So, the Studio Theatre had a proven winner with Bachelorette even before director David Muse had a chance to unpack the script. Nevertheless, he’s not twiddling his thumbs: Muse’s sensibilities inform, rather than undercut, the razor-sharp humor that already works so well on paper. Packed with Headland’s riffs on blowjobs (”Women suck. Men just taste bad.”), friendship (”We were close! We threw up every meal together!”), and fashion (”It feels like a tent made out of the skin of infants!”), Bachelorette makes for an awfully vulgar, awfully funny 90 minutes. It has bite, but it’s far from bitter.
(Photo by Scott Suchman)
The story opens in a hotel room — the lavish kind of unconsciously expensive hotel room that’s typically only used by the filthy rich, but in this instance, a filthy rich man’s bride-to-be Becky (Tracy Lynn Olivera) — as two women stumble in. ”What. The. Fuck!” one of them shouts, in a tone that’s somewhere between drunk and awed. They are not classy, as that sort of language immediately suggests. Gena (Laura C. Harris), discovers a bathtub filled with champagne and scampers out of the bathroom double-fisting bottles. Between swigs from one of her own, Katie (Jessica Love) jams on an air guitar while dancing on the couch. The duo keeps chugging bubbly and, soon, moves to cocaine — bumping lines off the reflective wrapping paper of a wedding present, natch — while waiting for the real party to start. Of course, they end up handling a lot more than they expected after Regen (Dylan Moore), the maid of honor, turns up with two random guys in tow: Jeff (Eric Bryant) and Joe (J.D. Taylor). Before long, dresses are torn, uglies are bumped, and 911 is called.
These women are far from prim and proper ladies — and thank God for that. They’re intense and emotionally stunted and bitchy and terrible, for sure, but they’re not the least bit boring. Harris plays Gena as a manic tangle of emotion, snorting coke and smoking weed between bouts of gloom about her ex-boyfriend. Love’s Katie is a judgmental force of nature, lashing out with jokes about Becky’s weight to hide her own failures and disappointments. And Moore turns what could have been a stereotypical queen bee into a character forced to recognize her self-destructive habits. They’re all doomed, actually. That’s the plight of their pleasure from excess.
Bachelorette is Headland’s take on gluttony — it’s a part of what she calls the ”Seven Deadly Plays” series — so it’s intimately concerned with the lacerating effects of modern debauchery. Reconciling that idea with the play’s more outrageous comedy, though, is where things begin to get tricky. Subverting a dramatic moment with humor is a timeless way to pull laughter from trauma – and Muse’s production is worth the price of admission just to see how it pulls off visual absurdities again and again – yet, that dissonance ultimately isn’t resolved.
As Bachelorette‘s madness dies down, and Becky finally arrives to survey the damage and dole out judgments, the story doesn’t offer a resolution as much as it does a realization. Without another joke to dole out, or another swear to hurl, it becomes clear why everyone in this outrageous world is chained to a vice, whether it be coke, or pills, or social standing: That excess is a moral poison, driving each character away from maturity and toward something much more menacing and unpredictable. It’s not the strongest moment of the play, or even the most memorable, but the message is nonetheless profound. All of these people are caught in a drug-addled, never-ending adolescence. They’re man-children, with vaginas.