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'Bachelorette' is bold theater with a hard edge at 7 Stages

Pinch 'N' Ouch company's triple threat: sexy, fun, dangerous

At the moment, Atlanta’s eclectic intown theater scene boasts such offerings as sparkling new productions of the musicals “Into the Woods” (Alliance Theatre) and “Spring Awakening” (Actor’s Express).

At the other end of the spectrum, in the intimate black box theater tucked behind the main venue at 7 Stages in Little Five Points, there’s something altogether different that will not put a song in your heart. It’s “Bachelorette,” a raw, daring, squirm-inducing production, and a Southeastern premiere.” There are a few more performances before it closes on Sunday night.

The new-ish troupe called Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre has mounted the two-hour “Bachelorette” by Los Angeles playwright Leslye Headland. Don’t let the title fool you into thinking this show fits anywhere in the realm of silly, glitzy, over-the-top reality TV.

“Bachelorette” is among the works in Headland’s Seven Deadly Plays series. Each play in the series is attached to a specific theme. For example, “The Accidental Blonde” deals with envy, while “Surfer Girl” is about a sloth. “Bachelorette” takes on gluttony in its more dangerous and self-destructive form.

The script zeroes in on Regan, Katie and Gena, three party-animal girls — OK, they are almost 30, but they are still girls  — who are together in a swank New York hotel room for one scary, as in self-destructive, night. It’s the eve of mutual friend Becky’s wedding. Self-centered bombshell Regan, a prescription drug fiend, is the maid of honor.

There’s heavy profanity (even worse than the F word), and right under the nose of the audience, the snorting up of little lines of white powder. There’s marijuana smoking, even though the attitude among these aimless gals is that pot is for losers and pedestrians. And there’s the gulping down of endless blue bottles of champagne. Courtesy of the wealthy, never-seen groom, the champagne is on ice in the hotel room bathtub.

Among other things, what really irks these girls is that Becky (unseen for most of the show) is the one walking down the aisle first. In a $15,000 dress! And it’s just insane that she landed this super rich guy, because she’s the fat one! It’s so unfair that she will never have to work in retail again!

So what might Becky’s high school chums do? Maybe they will snort enough coke so that one of them gets inspired to try on Becky’s wedding gown, laughing wickedly about how two people could actually fit into this dress. And maybe the dress will get ripped.

This show makes “Mean Girls” look like “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”

Grant McGowen, artistic director of Pinch ‘N’ Ouch, who also directs (and takes tickets, you name it), said he chose this material “because it is tough, risky, and it really pushes the buttons.” Indeed, it is his goal that this company’s productions have “sexy, fun and dangerous” in common. PNO Theatre, said McGowen, “started off as an excuse to work on some really meaty new material, then became a crusade against bad, performance-based acting. The name, “Pinch ‘N’ Ouch, honors legendary acting coach Sanford Meisner, who taught that acting had to be absolute truth — fully from the heart and soul. Meisner was even known to pinch his acting students, who would cry out “Ouch!” And those Ouches were the real deal.

That, ultimately, could prove to be the strength of this theater group. A number of local theaters too often showcase actors who are “performing” or emoting memorized lines rather than simply being in the moment.

McGowen’s gutsy actors, most especially Sarah Blackman as the bitter and beaten-by-life Regan, give naturalistic, powerhouse performances. Blackman is hard to hear at times and tends to mumble, but that seems all too real. (No worries that you could be missing her saying anything profound).

The acting here elevates the “Bachelorette” material. As the alcoholic mess Katie, Elizabeth Lanier can be overbearing — just too-too much, so there’s nowhere else to go. On the other hand, she’s the wildest of these wild, lost souls. She’s the one you stopped inviting to your parties because she’s an annoying nuisance and a wrecker of things and of herself and of any given moment. It’s not easy to play an unpleasant creature, and Lanier tackles the role with tremendous nerve and verve. It’s like she’s driving smack into a head-on collision, and the audience knows the crash is about to happen any second but is helpless to do anything to stop it.

“I can’t believe I haven’t blacked out yet!” cries Katie toward the end of the first act. “I love blacking out — it’s like sleeping, but better.”

It’s even harder to be passed out on stage for a significant chunk of time, as if in a drugged-out, drunken stupor. Katie gets propped up and plopped around like some pathetic ragdoll. Lanier’s fearless handling of this is impressive.

Ann Marie Gideon as Gena is also excellent; there’s nothing phony about her. She is something of a balancing act between Regan and Katie, and seems to want to escape from the wasted hole these girls have dug themselves into, but that hole is pretty dark and deep. Meanwhile, there’s coke in her purse and there’s always another party to crash.

As an easygoing stoner who helps bring some male energy and perspective to a few scenes, Barrett Doyle also does a fine job, as does Jessica De Maria as bride-to-be Becky.

If you go for bold and “now” theater with a hard edge, this cautionary tale is well worth checking out. Ultimately, Grant McGowen deserves strong credit, because his director’s hand is never obvious. These girls stumble around the stage and it’s impossible to sense that anyone told them to stumble this way or that.

“The uglier you make these characters, the more entertaining the show can be,” McGowen said, in a brief chat as we left the theater. “The worse they are, the closer we come to serving the deeper implications of the playwright.”

If you go: “Bachelorette” continues at 8 tonight through Saturday, and 5pm Sunday at 7 Stages (smaller theater in back), 1105 Euclid Ave., Little Five Points. Adults only (drug use, profanity, mature themes). Tickets: $25 online, $30 at the door. www.pnotheatre.org, 404-545-5983. Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre seeks a permanent home and has a holiday party/ fundraiser coming up Dec. 3. The aim is to raise $35,000 to secure its 2012 season. Inquiries: pnotheatre@aol.com and grant@pnotheatre.org.

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