Fear not. Headland may not aim for subtlety — she has identified this play, a 2010 off-Broadway hit, as the gluttony-themed entry in her cycle of works inspired by the proverbial Seven Deadly Sins — and her observation that some women have grave self-esteem and body-image issues isn’t exactly new. Still, there’s nothing preachy or cliche in her portrait of decadence, desperation and the switchblade-edged underside of female bonding in “Bachelorette.” That’s obvious from the opening moments of Muse’s production, when Gena and Katie (Laura C. Harris and Jessica Love) barge into the ritzy Manhattan hotel suite, emitting screams of laughter, and proceed to jump on the sofa, litter the floor with corks and ape Jimi Hendrix, using a champagne bottle in lieu of a guitar. (Set designer Deb Booth’s swanky minimalist hotel room, with its severe lines and muted colors, hits the perfect hipper-than-thou note.)
Once the cranky Regan (Dylan Moore) flounces into this nascent bacchanalia, it’s open season for bad-mouthing the absent Becky, whose particular crime, in her friends’ eyes, is that she is plus-size. The sneering at Becky’s girth — like much of the conversation in “Bachelorette” — often comes couched in language that is not quotable here. Fortunately, without playing down the profane, self-justifying, conversational fumbles of her none-too-bright characters, Headland manages to craft dialogue that is propulsive, funny and slyly textured, containing a fair share of zinger ripostes. “You look like a ‘Carrie’-themed parade float,” Gena deadpans when Katie tries on the too-large $15,000 wedding dress.
The play includes some poignant moments, particularly after Regan picks up two guys named Jeff and Joe (Eric Bryant and JD Taylor). When Katie — whose psyche is about as sturdy as the post-iceberg Titanic — makes a pass at Joe, a kindly stoner, the vulnerabilities of both flare into the open. “Don’t you get it, you stupid, f---ing phony?” she wails when he declines to make out with her, on the grounds that she’s overwrought and blotto. “This is what Marilyn Monroe looks like!”
Love taps expertly into Katie’s despair and frailty, and Taylor exudes a spot-on nerdy hesitancy as the slow-talking Joe. Eric Bryant aces the smarmy egoism of Joe’s sidekick Jeff — who, in a one of the show’s quirkiest moments, proves he can discourse knowledgeably on President Harry Truman’s role at the 1945 Potsdam conference.
Moore’s Regan is suitably abrasive, solipsistic and insecure, but somehow this pivotal character comes across as less interesting than basket-case Katie. She’s even less interesting than Harris’s Gena, who can veer in a moment from agitated to teary to furious as she paces around in leggings, a slinky tunic and high-heeled gladiator sandals. (Jennifer Moeller devised the character-appropriate costumes.)
As written by Headland, “Bachelorette” doesn’t build as much as it might: The characters’ self-destructive energies are too obvious from the start. But you’re inclined to forget this flaw when the comedy reaches its barbed ending: a glimpse of human weakness and cruelty that’s as skillfully positioned as a cyanide-laced sugar rose on the top of a wedding cake.
Wren is a freelance writer.
by Leslye Headland. Directed by David Muse; lighting, Michael Lincoln; sound, Neil McFadden. 90 minutes. Through July 1 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW. Call 202-332-3300 or visit www.studiotheatre.org.