Theater review by Raven Snook
Georgia Mertching Is Dead, Catya McMullen's raucous celebration of chosen family, feels so much like an indie film, it's no surprise that it's already been optioned. Three boisterous BFFs—unemployed optimist Whitney (the endearing Layla Khoshnoudi), nympho novelist Emma (a raw Claire Siebers) and gleefully foul-mouthed Gretchen (scene stealer Diana Oh), who looks about 12 months pregnant—discover that their mentor in sobriety has committed suicide. To pay their respects, they embark on a road trip from New York City to small-town North Carolina, bonding, bickering and growing along the way.
The play may not break much narrative ground, but it breaks your heart with a piercing exploration of the ways in which loss, trauma and love—romantic, platonic, familial—shape our lives. It's also morbidly hilarious, as these just-past-30 ladies talk candidly about addiction, fisting, hemorrhoids, childbirth and all their dead peers.
Skillfully staged by Giovanna Sardelli on Alexis Distler's mutable set, the show careers through a lot of emotional territory, and sometimes bumps into cliché. (Gretchen's swollen belly is akin to Chekhov's gun.) And the two male characters—Emma's broster ex (Quincy Dunn-Baker) and Gretchen's well-meaning husband (JD Taylor)—are mainly there to advance the women's stories. But that's part of what makes Georgia Mertching Is Dead so intoxicating. No man will ever satisfy these friends the way they do each other. They are the loves of their lives, and you can't help falling for them too.
Ensemble Studio Theatre (Off Broadway). By Catya McMullen. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40min. No intermission.