By Sarah Lehr
Bachelorette could not have been more different from StageFemmes’ earlier production, Post Grad. Post Grad was a feel-good musical. Bachelorette, directed by Casey Griffin ’14, was an in-your-face and often vulgar take on drug abuse, suicide and sexual assault.
The production’s setting, a multipurpose room in the Kenyon Inn, worked perfectly, since the plot unfolded at a swanky hotel. Bride-to-be Becky (Katie Moss ’15) offered up one of the rooms to her maid of honor, Regan (Sarah White ’16). Regan is Becky’s high school friend, if one uses the term “friend” in a loose sense to mean a petty backstabber. Unbeknownst to Becky, Regan invited notorious partiers Katie — played with unflagging energy by Elizabeth Gambal ’14 — and Gena, a sharp-tongued Jenny Ruymann ’15.
Before the play began, of-age members of the audience bought drinks at the Kenyon Inn bar and milled about jovially. As a result, the room smelled like booze, which added a sense of realism as the play’s leading ladies guzzled bottles of champagne. This pre-play cocktail party atmosphere ended up being at odds with the eventual tone. The play was not about fun-filled debauchery as the title suggests. It was about excesses — cocaine, champagne, and a $15,000 wedding dress — but it was not light-hearted.
The show opened with a bang, as Gena and Katie stumbled in and loudly proclaimed how much more wasted they were going to get. At first, Gambal played up her character for laughs, emphasizing the ditziness of the coked out, high and drunk Katie. At one point, Katie got giggles from the audience when, upon hearing about Gena’s pregnancy scare, she petulantly complained to her friends, “You guys had an abortion without me.” However, a darker side of the character soon emerged.
Gena also invited two strangers, Jeff (Will Seaton ’13) and Joe (Ben Kress ’14) because the strangers had pot. At times, Seaton’s portrayal of the predatory Jeff was marred by self-consciousness. To be fair, it was a difficult role. A scene in which Jeff put his hands all over Gena’s body despite her references to her boyfriend and her obvious revulsion was excruciating to watch, especially since the audience sat only inches away from the two of them. Jeff eventually won Gena over, though. When Gena re-emerged from an off-stage bedroom, White sensitively captured the character’s inner turmoil as she oscillated between being angry at Jeff, to being angry at herself, to being angry at her boyfriend.
Meanwhile, Katie kept throwing herself at Joe and not in a merely figurative sense. On several occasions, she hurled herself at Joe in an attempt to make out with him. Although Kress’ portrayal made Joe’s attraction to Katie obvious, Joe refused to hook up with her since she was so intoxicated. Perhaps it was the fault of the playwright, but when Joe and Katie had a heart-to-heart comparing Katie to Marilyn Monroe it felt schmaltzy rather than genuine.
After Joe’s seeming rejection of her (“Just fuck me already,” she kept saying), Katie tried to kill herself with pills. Kress and Ruymann effectively conveyed distress about the passed-out Katie while Moss, Seaton and White effectively conveyed indifference.
When the group decided to at least put Katie under a shower, Jeff suggested, “We should take off her clothes first.” Seaton’s nuanced delivery of the line implied a creepy eagerness, on Jeff’s part, to get Katie naked. I’ve seen plays with total nudity, but when Jeff and Joe stripped Katie down to her underwear it felt particularly vulnerable. Intellectually, I knew that Gambal was willing, as an actor, to take off her clothes. But, on another level, the actors convinced me that she was unconscious and helpless.
Gambal fully committed to her demanding role. It simply wouldn’t have worked if Gambal had been halfhearted about the things her character did ﾗ falling over in a tiny dress, screaming while high on cocaine and vomiting. Additionally, Moss’ portrayal of Becky was intriguing because, although Becky’s character had a quiet dignity that the other characters lacked, she seemed more concerned about her wedding than about Katie.
On the whole, the play painted a toxic portrait of female friendship. When the characters weren’t obsessing about not being married, they were mocking Becky for being fat. “Pig face” was one of the nicest things they called her.
Perhaps the play accurately reflected a society that teaches women to hate themselves and each other. At one point, Gambal told Joe about the proudest moment of her life, being prom queen. It was great, she said, because the other girls were jealous. Still, I found the extreme cattiness and immaturity of these women unbelievable. Bachelorette was a well-acted, well-staged play that aimed for brutal honesty. Most of the dialogue involved characters screaming at each other and shrillness eclipsed subtlety.
Before exiting, the stunned audience had to walk across the makeshift stage. Some were crying and some laughed nervously as they stepped around the pills and empty champagne bottles littering the floor.
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