Leslye Headland’s 2010 exploration of “female drug abuse and female gluttony” sprang in part from her observation that women feel most self-pitying at one another’s weddings. The idea is rote (see Bride Wars); it’s disparaging; it gives female relationships little credit and male stoicism too much. And it permeates Bachelorette, a script that, misogyny-wise, feels like well-trod territory for this company, a frequent mounter of Neil LaBute. Still, from an unforgiving premise, Headland has built a powerful play, brought to vivid life in this violent, often thrilling production.
The night before their friend Becky’s wedding, singletons Regan, Gena and Katie gather in a hotel room to drink, snort coke and kvetch about rotund Becky’s mysterious marital good fortune. Headland’s humor in these early scenes often feels forcedly mean-spirited, her frequent cultural references (John Mayer, the Dave Matthews Band, other circa-2000 oddities) ever-so-slightly off base. But the play gathers steam as a sudden, wedding-related disaster sets Regan plotting ways to screw her compatriots and save her relationship with Becky.
The play works largely thanks to Hillary Marren’s bombastic turn as Regan. Dressed skimpily, with hair teased like a massive wig, Marren commands the stage in a sometimes sensual, often abrasive performance of female-to-female drag. The performativity and apparent smarts she brings to the role perfectly match this over-the-top material. Other elements (a very current sound design by Jeffrey Levin, a cozy, realistic set by Scott Davis) help set the scene for a final showdown between Regan and Becky (the sonorous, well-timed Rakisha Pollard) that feels truly electric.