COKE-FUELED CAPTIVATION: PSL’s ‘Bachelorette’ nails the grimy underbelly of human nature

Oct 31 • ARTSY SMARTSY, FEATURE MAIN, Reviews, Interviews and Features, TheaterNo Comments on COKE-FUELED CAPTIVATION: PSL’s ‘Bachelorette’ nails the grimy underbelly of human nature

Pineapple-Shaped Lamps, Wilmington’s beloved sketch comedy troupe, has taken over the Ruth and Bucky Stein Studio Theatre at Thalian Hall to stage Leslye Headland “Bachelorette.” The 2008 play was adapted by Headland into a film in 2012 and stars Kirsten Dunst. Now it comes to vivid life in the black-box theater.

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Becky (Katherine Rosner) and Cal are getting married—which shouldn’t be the end of the world. Somehow, for her friends, it is. Becky isn’t the pretty one; she struggles with her weight. Yet she has landed a rich husband who really seems to dote upon her. Gina (Jessica Gift) and Katie (Mickey Johnson) are here to party—a wedding is a party, right? And this is Becky’s last night of freedom, after all. If there is one thing these two can do, it is party. They might not have accomplished much else in their short lives, but they have perfected indulgence in excess. Katie and Gina haven’t seen much of Becky lately, and given the way they bad mouth her, it is not hard to figure out why. Katie is the former prom queen who peaked a little early in life and isn’t quite certain how everything passed her by, but it has. Gina, her well-meaning best friend, hasn’t peaked so much as plateaued into a life of avoidance: confrontation, loss, pain—you name it. But she has to work at it, and partying is a great way to distract from those around her, who are landmines of emotion.

Enter Regan (Em Wilson), who embodies what her name conjures up from “King Lear.” She is tall, thin and accomplished in life. She is also as ugly inside as she is pretty on the outside.
The debauchery takes off at a coke-fueled gallop. Or so it seems. It is really fueled by pain. The three women are all baffled and angry their lives are off course. One has to wonder why they don’t see themselves as fully functional people without the seal of male approval in their lives. But that question isn’t going to get answered in a two-hour show—or maybe ever for these women. They clearly need and want this—even if it is fleeting. Regan has “befriended” two potheads, Jeff (Phill Antonino) and Joe (Anthony Corvino). She invites them to the hotel suite, and the expected evening commences with a routine as old as passing a bowl.

The two men are as different as can be. Antonino’s Jeff is an opportunist with very little regard for others. If anything, he plays a more straightforward and honest mirror of Regan. She’s pretty but incredibly mean and self-serving. It is hard to love either of them. They both play it so convincingly I found myself hoping they would fall into a hole of each other and just disappear. Of course, that won’t happen. The two are resilient experts at looking out for number one.
Now Corvino’s Joe and Johnson’s Katie, on the other hand, are a surprise at almost every turn. On the surface they are both pretty much failures Neither give indication of more depth than what’s on the surface, for that matter. But they surprise by slowly unveiling bits of themselves that—in the hands of less-skilled performers—would come across as parody or unbelievable. The two take their time and ride the wave of alcohol, marijuana, coke, prescription drugs, and flirtation to make it believable. Revelation can be difficult to make realistic onstage; too often it can come off as a plot device rather than a shared moment of intimacy. But these two really nail it.

The ghost in the machine of it all is Becky, who finally appears at the end. Rosner has a very short period of time to bring Becky to life as a fully functional person rather than the much-derided lucky bride. Oddly, it is her interactions with Gina that make Becky the most real. Gift’s Gina is filled with volume, intensity and commitment. She can’t do anything by half-measures. When she feels guilt, she feels guilt—which is far more than Regan can say. When she cares, she cares deeply. That is why Becky can’t forgive her or rekindle their friendship—and what passes unspoken between the two women made me long for their reconciliation. The audience can see and feel neither of them want this, but here they are.

Perhaps that is part of what makes watching the show so fascinating. It is, on the surface, a comedy, but the performers aren’t playing to punchlines. They are truly in each moment, which makes it so believable—but, ultimately, it’s so much more touching. Director Matt Carter has a remarkable sense of staging. It is a script that could easily devolve into parody or wallow in pity. It took a strong vision and deft hand to keep that from happening, while the performers ranged across the scope of young adult experience. Set designer Holly Cole Brown has given him quite a playground for the actors to romp in: an upscale hotel suite filled with wedding gifts, plants and balloons (complete with a pineapple-shaped lamp on the desk). There is a lot of detail to the set and props, but Carter and performers have made something much greater than the sum of its parts. Most characters would be difficult people to like or want to spend time with—somehow, by the end of the evening, I couldn’t help hoping for goodness to come for all of them.

Make no mistake, it is a very fun and touching evening; however, it is not for children. It is filled with booze, drugs and discussions of oral sex that make some of David Mamet’s work sound almost G-rated. The performances are captivating to watch, and I left amazed at how well the team captured a moment in the human experience.

Details:
Bachelorette
Nov. 3-5, 8 p.m.;
Sun. matinees, 3 p.m.
Ruth & Bucky Stein Theatre
Thalian Hall • 301 Chestnut St.
Tickets: $15-$20
www.thalianhall.org

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