On a typical weekend night, numerous trolleys traverse the bar-strewn streets of Sweet Home Chicago filled with bachelorettes, who come and go like pretty, drunk Michelangelos. Although they are invariably loud and inadequately dressed for the Chicago weather, one cannot help but be drawn to the optimistic way these women traverse our cold urban jungle.
You walk along with head down, collar pulled high, cynical snarl on the face after a quotidian day at work. They lean out hopefully from their carriage, cutting through the chill with a hoop and a holler and, on occasion, a cheery, if woefully general and ill-thought, invitation to "par-tay." This, from someone wearing both a sash and a crown. Such a night that would be, you think as you turn away.
Perchance one such trolley will soon pull up to the Profiles Theatre and disgorge its occupants, attracted to a play with the title "Bachelorette." ("Like, isn't that totally the show we should be seeing before we drink some more?") Should that happen, the girls on the bus will be in for a horror show.
Sure, Leslye Headland's play is composed of bachelorettes — four of them, in fact — along with the two lucky guys they pick up on their way to trashing the Peninsula Hotel before one of them relinquishes her title for good. And there is certainly partying on display in a storefront theater that, be warned, specializes in life's seedier aspects — Champagne, cocaine, marijuana, sex, nudity, sundry little pills to top things off. Yet Headland has not so much penned an outrageous comedy featuring girls gone wild — although wild they surely go here — but a cautionary tale of what so often happens at weddings, where the combination of nerves, pressure and, especially for the still-single or unhappily married, the forced and unwelcome comparison with one who has found love (and maybe money), all combine to make the trajectory of the night toxic.
Headland's play, a hit off-Broadway and part of an ongoing authorial exploration of the seven deadly sins, opens at Profiles, just as the movie version, wherein Headland directs her own screenplay, has made a big splash at Sundance. The movie stars Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher. No starlets populate Darrell W. Cox's all-live production, but Cox has found a group of young women who are willing to take it to the wall, even though that wall is only about 10 feet away. At one point during Thursday's opening, the hotel-room set (an expert rendering of half of a Peninsula suite by the designer Scott Davis), was so full of fluids and strewn with busted wedding gifts, the actress Rakisha Pollard nearly went flying halfway down North Broadway, high heels and all. She did not miss a beat.
Headland's characters are, of course, arrested adults, perpetual adolescents whose tropes are familiar to us from a thousand reality-TV series and trashy dramas. They are not specifically Jersey Girls, but they may as well be.
This is hardly the best play featuring such characters behaving badly, nor even such characters behaving badly at a wedding ("Stags and Hens" probed the same territory some three decades ago). And for some, these self-obsessed walking crises will wear out their welcome fast. But what makes "Bachelorette" interesting is not so much the situation as the tone of the writing. One moment you feel for these kids in their tight dresses, binge drinking and sleeping with men who do not even know their name. Later, you're ready to watch them choke on their own vomit. There is, for sure, robustness, at times even viciousness, to this unstinting writing: It's as if Headland wants us to understand the forces of personal insecurity that make this all happen, wants us to fear for those caught in the headlights and yet also respect those who don't party like wimps. All those emotions go through your head.
The cast races out onto the set with the dial already at 10 and then manage to push the scale of energy even beyond that. The well-cast quartet of bachelorettes —Hillary Marren, the edgy Linda Augusta Orr, Amanda Powell and the bride-to-be, played by the quirky Pollard — all have their moments, but Powell, who plays Gena, the one character imbued with something approaching sisterly responsibility, is a standout. This is a performance of quite startling range, going from intense sexual posturing to sweet, needy compassion, with a little break to allow her messed-up character to snort some coke.
Cox's mostly potent production falters a little when the guys get involved. Eric Burgher is not well cast — you struggle to see him as a fellow who would be in this particular situation with this particular girl. Adam Soule looks the part, but his energy doesn't match that of the women. To a large extent, these men are just props; this is a play about bachelorettes. Still, both these actors have further to go.
Actually, all aspects of the production need work toward the end, when the energy starts to sag, easier choices emerge and specificity diminishes. By then, it's already been quite an evening. But bachelorettes never know when to call it a night. They push on to the bitter end; that comes with their territory.
When: Through March 11.
Where: 4147 N. Broadway
Running time: 1 hour, 25 mins.
Tickets: $35-$40 at 773-549-1815 or profilestheatre.org