“I’m glad I didn’t have a drink before seeing this play,” was my first thought as I left a performance of Bachelorette, Leslye Headland’s dark comedy that was revived at Walkerspace. This searing portrayal of toxic female friendships, which first played Off-Broadway in 2010 and was adapted into a 2012 film, accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol and drugs, leaves the audience exhausted and perhaps feeling a bit intoxicated – or hung over.
Directed by Hannah T. Wolff and set in a posh hotel room (designed by Lucca Damilano), Bachelorette opens with partners in crime Katie (Kelsey Moore) and Gena (Erika Santosuosso) arriving and ready to party. Their high school friend Becky (Emily Ota) is getting married tomorrow, and Regan (Darcy Wright), the maid of honor, has invited them to join her for one last hurrah.
The moment the women begin drinking and talking, the dynamics of their social circle are apparent. Gena is the more subdued and rational one, in contrast to Katie, a former prom queen, who frequently declares that she hates her life, which involves living with her parents and working a retail job, and refers to suicide attempts. Regan is the seemingly more successful of the group, with a job at a hospital and a doctor boyfriend she wants to propose. (The dialogue between the women about the rationing and dispensing of blow jobs is quite enlightening.) But all is not well with Regan, an obviously insecure woman who frequently rearranges her long blonde hair and her body to strike the most flattering pose possible.
The trio are all envious of Becky’s upcoming nuptials. In the absence of the bride-to-be, they make disparaging comments about her appearance, and, more specifically, her weight. Becky’s husband (who never appears onstage) is made to sound picture-perfect: rich, kind and handsome. So why did Becky snag him and not one of these three?
The cruelty of catty women, and the more recently popular term “frenemies”, is nothing new to entertainment. But the disappointment that permeates the dialogue of these women is not simple jealousy or pettiness; it is the post-collegiate discontent that has defined many millennials’ lives. The frantic need to succeed and hit certain benchmarks by certain ages, and the sense of failure that accompanies their absence, is tangible. These women aren’t simply cruel, they are frustrated and disappointed.
That disappointment quickly escalates to dangerous self-destruction when two young men arrive to join the party. Jeff (James Hesse) intends to sleep with Regan and proceeds to seduce her through manipulation by calling her out on her insecurities, while Joe (Scott Friend), bonds with Kate over their addiction to escaping their lives through drugs. Their use quickly escalates into dangerous territory and the show takes a much darker turn, while the true characters of each of the women are revealed.
That reveal is disturbing, to say the least, and unique in that no one onstage is a bit likeable. Some of the men and women possess more redeemable characteristics than others, but there is clearly no hero or heroine in this hotel room. That defiance of conventional characteristics is a welcome one, especially when it gives female actresses the opportunity to explore new methods of performances.
Allyson Steele’s costumes personify each of the characters’ personalities in simple ways, but one aspect of the show’s appearance is quite alarming, and that was the casting of Ota as the presumably fat Becky. When Ota appeared onstage, this critic was shocked, because she is not fat at all. And the casting of a healthy woman who is simply heavier than her costars, to play an actress written as so fat her friends mock her appearance comes close to overshadowing the feminist accomplishments of this script.
“Fat people are so easy to hate,” the slender Kate says of Becky as they rake her over the coals. Well, so is everyone else onstage as well.