by John Stoltenberg

To be honest, I resisted seeing this new play by Leslye Headland at Studio Theatre. From all I had read about it, I expected misogynist cartoons of women as bitches and sluts. And I think I’ve seen enough of that in the theater, thank you very much.

So when I finally broke down and went—just days before the DC production closed—I was utterly astonished by what I found. Bachelorette (not to be confused with the ABC television program The Bachelorette) is actually a profound exploration of how cultural misogyny fuels female self-hatred.

At the beginning three young women (who are to be bachelorettes in their friend’s wedding the next day) put on a riotously funny exhibition of women behaving badly—i.e., like uncouth dudes, apparently their sole social point of reference for freedom and escape from their lot as females. Their hilariously crude macholike banter and bravado escalate even as they divulge raw details of the damage done to them as women.

A program note says Bachelorette is one in a series about the seven deadly sins, the theme here being gluttony. And the three women certainly do consume appalling quantities of alcohol and drugs. But I don’t think I’ve seen anything onstage like what Headland has achieved thematically in exposing tragic pain just beneath high comedy. Yes, these woman act like bitches and sluts. But without at all preaching, the playwright lets us see this as their defense against a woman-hating world—as though their inner mantra is “You can’t hate me because I’ll hate myself more.”

The storyline keeps astonishing. Two authentically male dudes arrive. The bride-to-be shows up. And by the end there is a vast mess onstage that doesn’t begin to evoke the messes that are the three bachelorettes’ lives. I almost never stopped laughing, or gasping, at what just happened before my eyes.

The cast was uniformly phenomenal: Laura C. Harris, Jessica Love, and Dylan Moore as the bachelorettes; Eric Bryant and JD Taylor as the guys; and Tracy Lynn Olivera as the bride. And the direction by David Muse was brilliant.

I wish I’d seen this production sooner so I could have sent all my DC theatergoing friends.