Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

PLAY VS. PRODUCTION: BACHELORETTE lucks out with stellar cast + director

I know I’m a little late in the game here. After all, Leslye Headland’s BACHELORETTE closed today at Second Stage Uptown’s The McGinn/Cazale Theatre after

Mean Girls: Katherine Waterston, Tracee Chimo, and Celia Keenan-Bolger in BACHELORETTE

having garnered nearly universal praise (the show’s StageGrade was A -).  But as I sat watching this brutally paced and quick-witted production earlier this week, I began to wonder: does this play (not the production) warrant all the positive fuss?

Helmed by Trip Cullman, an intuitive director who has surely met — and understands, and even sympathizes with — such greed-is-good-mean-gossip-girls-in-the-city that the comedy revolves around, this BACHELORETTE is both bitingly clever and brutally paced. Stars Tracee Chimo, Katherine Waterston, and Celia Keenan-Bolger ferociously tear into the material as the three crazy-witty and crazy-vindictive ex-best-friends who can’t bare to stop hurting each other or themselves.

Charles Isherwood has this to say in his rare rave New York Times review:

The central characters in this Second Stage Theater production . . . may be familiar: marginally more grown-up versions of the spoiled youngsters from any number of youth-aimed movies and television shows. But as written with stiletto-sharp wit by Ms. Headland, they are almost embarrassingly compelling, and expertly played by a cast of gifted actors under the pitch-perfect direction of Trip Cullman.

Isherwood points out the over-familiarity of Headland’s profane and empathetic characters, and then, for the majority of the review, sings the praises of cast and director for making said characters “embarrassingly compelling.”

While the occasional critic gently implies the distinction between writing and direction — Talkin’ Broadway‘s Matthew Murray, for example, mentions that the plot “may all sound fairly conventional, and in some ways it is” — only Alexis Soloski of the Village Voice pinpoints where the BACHELORETTE gets lucky and then runs out of it (full review here):

All the cleverness conceals some rather lazy plotting and a thematic arc that rivals Beverly Hills 90210 episodes in complexity. Happily, director Trip Cullman has marshaled an able and eccentric cast and encouraged many nicely observed moments.

When I sussed out what I truly enjoyed about the BACHELORETTE — Chimo’s hilariously antagonistically elongated valley-girl line delivery and the deliciously drunken stage choreography of the girls’ side-stepping each others’ drug-fueled land mines — I of course realized:

It’s not an A-caliber play. It’s an A-caliber production.

And it made me further wonder just how many similar experiences I’ve had in my past theatergoing:

How often to we blur the lines between script and production, bestowing praise on a writer’s work, while dismissing the  possibly more vital contributions of the director and the cast (and vice versa)?

CIRCLE MIRROR: Deirdre O'Connell, Heidi Schreck, Tracee Chimo, Reed Birney. Photo: Joan Marcus.

The best recent example I can think of is Annie Baker’s CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION. I distinctly recall walking out of the Playwrights Horizons production wondering, had the script been submitted to me as a Literary Director, would I have taken it any further? Would I have recognized it’s theatrical potential? I’m not so sure. (I would of course be kicking myself for the rest of my career, as I even listed it as one of the Best of 2009.)

Is BACHELORETTE on par with CIRCLE MIRROR? No. To my mind the latter consistently demonstrates more insight, depth, and theatricality than the former (which would work better as a film –and which adaptation may already be in the works). But what if CIRCLE MIRROR had premiered without the pitch-perfect cast (including that fabulous Tracee Chimo) and direction? Would the play(wright)  have received the accolades it(she) rightfully deserves?

And so my questions to you, my thoughtful readers:

  • For premiere productions, how often do you find that credit — via critics, friends, etc — is misplaced? (If you have your own examples of plays/productions, I’d love to hear ’em. Lord knows I have more)
  • Does it, in the end, help or harm emerging writers to have a creative team that significantly improves upon their work?
  • Should critics be held responsible for more precisely distinguishing between the writing and the production?
  • Does it even matter who’s to praise/blame if the audience generally loves/loathes its two hours spent in the theatre?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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This entry was posted on August 30, 2010 by in Comedy, Directing, Off-Broadway, Reviews, Theatre, Theatre Reviews and tagged , , .

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