Look out, ladies, it’s payback time. Think of the savage acts of betrayal that a clique of jealous girlfriends commit in Leslye Headland’s viciously funny satire, “The Bachelorette,” as the flip side of those nurturing bonds of female friendship celebrated in “Love, Loss, and What I Wore.” Although unkind, unfair and shaky in the motivation department, this girly slice-and-dice fest is still a riot. Trip Cullman’s snazzy production was developed for Second Stage’s Uptown Series, which should be taken as a caution before anyone goes and cuts those budget-line items for new play development.
Why is everybody being so evil to Becky (Carmen M. Herlihy)? When she appears at the end to mop up the blood in the pristine hotel bridal suite stylishly designed by Andromache Chalfant, the much-reviled bride-to-be turns out to be unthreateningly chubby and constitutionally nice. But it’s enough that “Pigface Fat Fatty,” as her college friend Katie (in a spot-on perf by Celia Keenan-Bolger) refers to her, is getting married before any of their old crowd — and to a millionaire.
Katie, a former prom queen now reduced to “working in retail,” and her best friend, Gena (the always riveting Katherine Waterston), weren’t even invited to this prenuptial party. But they leaned on a bridesmaid and here they are, drunk and dangerous. Wasted on champagne and coke, they express their bitter envy of Becky’s good fortune by ripping her wedding gown, trashing her presents and assassinating her character.
And that’s when Reagan (Tracee Chimo, so ready for this she’s practically licking her chops), the bridesmaid from hell, shows up — shortly to be followed by two guys she casually picked up. Mean as a snake, but looking gorgeous in a tight magenta frock (nice fashion statement from Emily Rebholz), Reagan is the one that Headland is really out to get. The smartest, sexiest, most popular — and meanest — girl in the class.
To get the party in gear, Reagan brings up blowjobs, which stirs Gena to deliver a virtual treatise on the subject. Directed at a high energy level and delivered in brilliant deadpan by Waterston, it’s a showstopper. (But will it be picked up as an audition piece? Just asking.)
Headland’s stated theme is gluttony (she’s covered the other deadly sins in plays she wrote as artist in residence at Los Angeles’ IAMA Theater Company), and there’s certainly plenty of evidence of that here as these childish women, who are staring 30 in the face with dread, indulge their seemingly insatiable appetite for drugs, drink, pills and cheap sex. But on another level, the play is also about friendships lost or tossed aside in the scramble for something that looks like more fun and demands less work.
Given that underlying thematic tug, the play’s comic mood buckles when the boys show up. While the sexual shenanigans escalate into well-paced farce, once Jeff (in the stolid person of Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Joe (who morphs into a genuine mensch in Fran Kranz’s sensitive perf) make their moves on the girls. But something goes wrong when Headland moves in for the kill on Reagan. Chimo licks the blood off her nails and holds her performance ground, but Reagan’s humiliation feels false, contrived to make this mean girl (who could take any guy in the room) suffer for a lifetime of bitchery.
Katie’s meltdown and Joe’s reaction to it (a touchy moment handled with kid gloves by both thesps) has a lot more veracity, mainly because Headland gives Katie the motivational backstory she begrudges the other characters and withholds altogether from Reagan. Payback is all very nice — but fair is fair.