By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
The in-your-face play Bachelorette has one major element in common with the hit movie Bridesmaids — it's about nasty gals who include a bride and her maid of honor on the eve of the wedding.
But Bachelorette, which opened Saturday night in a production by Luna Theater Company that purrs along in a super-dark funniness, has tons more drugs, booze, pills, sex, petty jealousies, gross dialogue and general excess — in other words, an altogether edgier script than the movie.
Better, too, because the arc of Bachelorette is shellacked with a desperation that seems genuine, if you allow yourself to see past the skankiness of its characters. During its 75 minutes, set in a high-end hotel room across from Central Park, I began to empathize with the four so-called girlfriends, who include the bride, as well as the two guys (one of them a transparent creep) who end up with them.
Another similarity between Bachelorette and Bridesmaids is that Bachelorette is also now a movie -- it premiered last week at Utah's Sundance Film Festival. Its young Los Angeles-based playwright, Leslye Headland, who has a way with raunch, wrote the screenplay and also directed; Will Ferrell is the producer.
The play, whose raw-and-real young characters grow on you, had a sold-out, extended run Off Broadway in 2010. The script captures, then locks in, a sort of hip, dissolute restlessness — being young, catty, wasted and gnarled in the entanglements of friendship.
Bachelorette is not a story as much as a situation: Regan (Julia Frey) is a last-minute choice as Becky's maid of honor, and has a room in the hotel where the wedding's taking place. Two other friends have not been invited to the wedding — Katie (Kate Brennan) and Gena (Amanda Damron), who are exceptional abusers of all substances, and queens of havoc.
Regan feels bad for these shunned pals, and invites them to the hotel room to party with her for the evening. She's already been carousing earlier with two guys (Jeremy Gable and Bob Stineman), total strangers she's also invited to the room. Becky (Sarah Schol), the bride and the reason for all of this, is also the outsider; the three other women can't decide whether to hate her more for her considerable weight or for her status as the first among them to be married — and to a rich guy.
What happens in the hotel room is everything you'd expect during a night of inhaled, imbibed and ingested extremes. (Plus maybe some stuff you wouldn't.) Cheers to the entire cast for developing actual characters during this all-out bender, and especially to Kate Brennan, who must play her entire role through the thickest haze, but even so comes across with piercing clarity.
Luna's producing artistic director Gregory Scott Campbell designed the hotel-room set and also staged this Bachelorette to make the play's moments of serious discourse (the best stuff) stand out in a comedy — a comedy with almost nobody standing unaided at the end.
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, firstname.lastname@example.org, or #philastage on Twitter.