Non-Stop Debauchery Turns Grim

Rin Ehlers Sheldon, Lauren King and Kay Marian McNellen. (Photos courtesy of Daren Scott.)

Certain shows benefit from the audience knowing very little about them when going into the theatre, while others are more enjoyable when the attendees have a good idea about the type of show they are about to see. Bachelorette is an example where your engagement will depend on how prepared you are for the drastic tonal shifts that occur throughout the dark comedy.

Written as part of Leslye Headland’s series of plays based on the Seven Deadly Sins, called the ‘Seven Deadly Plays’ cycle. (Bacherlorette is about gluttony), three young women take part in a wild night at the pricey New York City hotel room of a bride-to-be, Becky (Samantha Vesco). Although the maid of honor Regan (Rin Ehlers Sheldon) continues to be close friends with Becky, Regan’s two pals, the cocaine-addicted Gena (Lauren King) and the alcoholic Katie (Kay Marian McNellen), no longer share a close bond with her.

Unrestrained drug use, almost nonstop drinking and a ripped wedding dress are only a few of the ways in which the evening gets way out of hand.

Not making matters any better is the arrival of a sketchy smooth-talking ladies man, Jeff (Alex Guzman), and his fairly goodhearted buddy Joe (Graham Ehlers Sheldon), both of whom were just introduced to Regan.

The synopsis might suggest that the Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company’s production at Diversionary’s Black Box Theatre won’t be too different from successful mainstream R-rated comedies such as “Bridesmaids,” “The Hangover” and “Girls Trip,” and the first half roughly plays in a similar vein. Headland’s dialogue is hilariously cringeworthy as almost all of her characters have no filters.

Two performers who take the most advantage of this aspect of her dialogue are King and McNellen, whose friendship onstage feels instantly genuine. King’s jaded sense of comic timing works well with McNellen’s physically comedic performance.

Compared to Gena and Katie, Regan starts off as a familiar character who is currently in a flawed relationship with her never-seen boyfriend. Sheldon’s acting starts to really become effective when the writing delves into heavier material.

There comes a point when Bacherlorette becomes less like a crowd pleasing big screen hit and more like an angrier, if still humorous, tale written by Neil LaBute (many writers continue to compare Headland to LaBute). Credit should go to Headland and Producing Director Anthony Methvin for confidently handling such major stylistic changes.

Samantha Vesco.

Early on, Methvin treats alcohol consumption and swallowing pills as sight gags, but he gradually makes this kind of behavior very troubling to watch. Justin Humphres’ set and Ri Ray’s props emphasize the debauchery that Regan, Gena and Katie indulge in at the hotel room.

Headland’s decision to go into heavier territory is justified, because Regan and her friends are certainly not living ideal lives, and seem unhappy and unsatisfied with who they are. During an affecting moment when Katie is alone, McNellen reveals the inner pain that she tries to hide from others.

Bachelorette’s narrative encourages everyone to think about the actions that occur at Becky’s guest room. Headland doesn’t explicitly judge everyone’s behavior, and that forces the audience to reflect on what she is saying about gluttony.

As long as theatregoers are a little familiar with what they are going to watch, they will be equally amused and shocked by Headland’s story. San Diegans are getting the chance to see why Headland has been getting plenty of attention as a playwright and screenwriter for over a decade.

[box] Show times are Thursdays at 8:00 p.m, Fridays at 8:00 p.m, Saturdays at 3:00 p.m and 8:00 p.m, Sundays at 2:00 p.m and Mondays at 7:00 p.m. [/box]



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