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Theater Review: “Bachelorette” at Studio Theatre

Leslye Headland’s pitch-black comedy explores what happens when mean girls grow up.

Laura C. Harris, Jessica Love, and Dylan Moore in Bachelorette. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Bachelorette, Leslye Headland’s chaotic exploration of excess, might sound a little like the 2011 hit Kristen Wiig movie Bridesmaids, with its foul-mouthed heroines, pill-fueled exploits, and prewedding hedonism. But Headland’s play, which debuted in 2010 and was recently made into a movie starring Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher slated for release later this year, is a different trip entirely. Lacking kindness, empathy, or any redeeming characteristics whatsoever, Bachelorette’s three central Gen Y-ers are monstrosities, spewing a perfect trail of bile and insults in their wake.

Bachelorette is one part of a seven-play cycle Headland’s undertaken, each of which explores a different deadly sin. In this case, the focus is on gluttony, which becomes less about food than about overconsumption in every other possible way, from a case of vintage Veuve Cliquot bottles chilling in a tub to a glassine baggie full of blow. Gena (Laura C. Harris) and Katie (Jessica Love) are 29-year-old portraits of dysfunction who gather in a hotel room to help their high school classmate Becky (Tracy Lynn Olivera) have one last big blowout before her wedding. Gena’s recovering from a bad breakup and an abortion; Katie works in retail, lives in Long Island with her family, and thinks heroin sounds glamorous. But the pair have a trump card they cling to—they’re not fat, unlike Becky, who, despite being the object of their jagged derision, has managed to snag herself a handsome hedge funder for a husband.

Regan (Dylan Moore) is Becky’s maid of honor and, at first glance, the most adult of the group: She works in a cancer ward for children and has a long-term boyfriend. Nevertheless, she skewers Becky more viciously than anyone, despite their ostensible friendship. In high school, she tells Gena and Katie, “we were close. We threw up every meal together.”

As the night proceeds to become a perfect storm of pandemonium, coke gets snorted off of silver-wrapped wedding presents, Champagne corks fly, and Regan invites two men to join in: sleazy Jeff (Eric Bryant), and sweet-natured stoner Joe (JD Taylor), the most likable person in the room. Through the drugs, the nonsensical conversations, the endless vulgarity, and the cruel barbs, it becomes clear that all the characters have their own issues to tackle. Director David Muse guides the cast through uncomfortable sexual exploits, acts of physical indignity, and verbal crudeness that had much of the audience wincing on press night. Though the pace seems a little slow at first for such a frenetically hyper-charged evening, events pick up steam as they draw toward their inevitable meltdown of a conclusion. As Regan, Moore is chillingly effective, almost sociopathic in her icy manipulations. Harris, who recently starred as the ditzy younger woman in Studio’s Time Stands Still, is a neurotic but compelling mess as Gena, and Love’s Katie becomes brashly sympathetic as the most messed-up character of all.

Bachelorette isn’t easy to watch, and until we see glimpses of humanity peek through the characters’ godawful exteriors, it can feel like an occasionally entertaining endurance test. Headland is viciously funny, for sure, and her focus on narcissistic New Yorkers is razor-sharp. Amid the sleek elegance of Deb Booth’s opulent hotel-room set, the carnage the three girls wreak is visually shocking. By the time Becky arrives—a calming, serene presence amid the mayhem—it’s hard not to wonder quite how these people have functioned without her for so long.

Bachelorette is at Studio Theatre through July 1. Running time is 90 minutes. Tickets ($35 to $69) are available through Studio’s website.

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