Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette, running at the Studio Theatre now through July 1, subverts its context and advertising by delivering a surprisingly moral and eminently satisfying story in the guise of a drug and alcohol-fueled binge of cruelty – buoyed by marvelous performances and razor-sharp writing and direction.
I’ll bet that Leslye Headland is sick of being asked if the success of Bridesmaids inspired her to write Bachelorette. There’s a point midway through the rather nasty first act of the play where I find myself making the comparison, too. However, Bachelorette has so much more to offer than that somewhat funny (but rather facile) film, going beyond simple “girls can do gross-out humor” and building to an astonishing emotional climax by the third act.
The heart of the play is powered by remarkable performances by Dylan Moore and JD Taylor as Joe, who seems frivolous, but grows in stature to be the only real moral voice on stage during the rapid-fire 90 minutes of action. The play starts with Gena (played by Laura C. Harris-– last seen as the naïf in Time Stand Still) and Katie (played by Jessica Love) arriving tipsy in the hotel room reserved but unoccupied by the bride-to-be, Becky (played by Tracy Lynn Olivera). The girls talk trash about the bride, exchange vulgarisms about sex, and indulge in Gena’s stash of cocaine and the bathtub full of bottles of Veuve Cliquot.
The subtext of the play is gluttony, one of the Seven Deadly Sins cycle by Headland – and the girls go all out. Regan arrives to add firepower to the trash talk about Becky, with two guys who seem out of central casting for South Slope douchebags – the perfect hair and measured gaze of Jeff (Eric Bryant, with Hollywood looks), and the simple stoner Joe, who has just a touch of Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia mixed in. We watch as this rather awful mix of vapid, worthless people go through the (implausibly early, in terms of timeline) stereotypical travails of a bunch of 20 somethings with too much money and no sense at all.
Without giving away the plot, the second act enfolds with a series of small disasters. It is how these characters handle the ensuing crises that provides opportunities for real drama to emerge from the wreckage of the Hollywood clichés of the first act. And real drama does ensue. The bon mots of the first act give way to gloriously horrible asides of dry wit in the second, giving way to true emotion in the third. I should mention the reliably excellent direction of David Muse, who seems to be involved in most things I love at the Studio.
Reading about Headland, I would say that Headland’s religious upbringing in the suburbs informs the center of the play and allows Joe to play a role, transforming from a Greek chorus to a real moral force. In a way, I think it’s his initial vapidity that gives his character’s growth into moral strength some surprise but true satisfaction. Becky’s emergence towards the end of the minor-scale apocalypse we’re witnessing gives another dry perspective on the desolate action. We’re confronted by someone who truly is larger (in body-type), set to marry a rich, evidently thoughtful husband, but with none of the distasteful moral gluttony of her hot skinny friends.
If there’s any lesson to it – other than a rip-roaring good time through terrible situations with an inventive resolution – is that in any situation, there is a moral action to be taken and it sometimes means forgoing the satisfaction of an easy escape or mindless consumption. Nothing you didn’t already know, I’m sure, but a marvelous experience in the theater, nonetheless.