Left to right: Rin Ehlers Sheldon, Lauren King and Kay Marian McNellen in "Bachelorette." Photo by Daren Scott
Very much to its credit, the raucous black comedy “Bachelorette” is neither cautionary nor apologetic. The best known work in Leslye Headland’s play cycle based on the seven deadly sins (it was made into a 2012 movie starring Kirsten Dunst), “Bachelorette’s” theme is gluttony: voracious appetite for drugs (pot and cocaine), booze (champagne), and sex (last names optional). The excess comes with consequences, yet its wedding-eve practitioners simply are who they are. They party. They bond. They snipe. They survive. But they don’t preach.
Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company is staging the local premiere of “Bachelorette” in the little Black Box space behind University Heights’ Diversionary Theatre. Except for the seating area, every square inch has been transformed into a Manhattan hotel room, smartly designed by Justin Humphres. The posh environs quickly become the setting for a nightlong free-for-all. The bride’s maid of honor, Regan (Rin Ehlers Sheldon), has recruited Gena (Lauren King) and Katie (Kay Marian McNellen), both of them expressly not invited to the next day’s wedding, to get down and par-tay in the hotel room. Gena snorts cocaine like it’s about to vanish from circulation. Katie trashes herself and the suite with equal abandon. No choir girl herself, Regan happily boozes and toots, but she has her “limits”: “I never smoke pot,” she tells the others. “It’s too pedestrian.”
Not long after the wedding gown of bride-to-be Becky (Samantha Vesco, appearing late in the going) ends up being a casualty of the debauchery, two outsiders enter the fray. Jeff (Alex Guzman), a player in every sense of the word, and the good-hearted Joe (Graham Ehlers Sheldon) are there to bed Regan and Katie, respectively. In the parallel seduction scene that ensues, it’s hard to tell who’s seducing who, which in its ingenuity reflects the sharpness of Headland’s way with dialogue. When one of the liaisons goes full train wreck, “Bachelorette’s” story darkens, though to great relief, other than the cloying use of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” it does not sink into bathos.
Directed indulgently by Anthony Methvin, the high-energy cast has license to forsake all restraint. The completely un-self-conscious McNellen in particular takes advantage, but then her self-destructive Katie is written as being just about out of control. In the role of the narcissistic but by comparison composed Regan, Rin Ehlers Sheldon effectively taps into her character’s emotional complexities. Her own mini-meltdown, which follows a fit of meanness, is the play’s most believable reaction to circumstances gone drastically awry.
“Bachelorette” is loud, sometimes shrill and it unfolds throughout in an atmosphere of chaos. Its women behaving badly are amusing up to the point where they become near-caricatures and whatever insights the play is trying to impart about reckless self-indulgence or even addiction are lost in the din of slamming doors, profanity and plastic pill bottles hitting the floor. Then again, this is a dark comedy in which the wanton decadence is best left to speak for itself, and to be guiltily enjoyed. (Review originally published in The San Diego Union-Tribune on March 20.)
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David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.