OF THE THINGS that sound like hell to me, bachelorette parties are right up there with going to the dentist to get my adult-onset cavities drilled. From the weird tiaras-as-clubwear thing, to the actually being in a club thing, to the pink shots that taste like shampoo, to the dick straws, to the performance of a very narrow idea of hetero femininity, of female bonding as shrieked hellos—it all boils down to one giant no, thank you. I can't do it. So I don't know why I was willing to subject myself to Theatre Vertigo's production of Adam Bock's The Drunken City—it is a play about a bachelorette party—but I guess I'm glad I did?
The characters in The Drunken City are drunk. They're three women on a prenuptial bar crawl—an anxious maybe-alcoholic in divinity school (Shawna Nordman), an overbearing control freak (Nicole Accuardi), and an engaged lady about to marry a safe guy she doesn't really care about (Holly Wigmore)—who chance upon a wistful Mr. Lonelyhearts (Murri Lazaroff-Babin) and his wingman (R. David Wyllie). Debauchery ensues, but so does a lot of circuitous, often funny dialogue about the terror of long-term commitment. The script takes some inexplicable turns—a non-sequitur dirge in the second act is a heavy-handed restatement of what's already abundantly clear (we're going dark!)—but under the direction of KL Cullom, the uniformly strong cast (rounded out by the delightful Tom Mounsey) salvages the good parts, effectively personifying the slurred half-brilliance of 2 am conversations between friends—and the existential despair.
The existential despair is key. Because while I can't stomach shots that taste like green-apple Jolly Ranchers with a hint of rubber band, there's another reason bachelorette parties bum me out: The last time I was a young lady about town, fresh out of college and running with a pack of young professionals, Friday night invariably devolved into one the following: (1) stepping outside the bar to find one of my friends crumpled in a doorway, crying over a text message or the lack of one, (2) witnessing a perfectly sober friend-of-a-friend deliberately seek out the drunkest, least able-to-stand girl at the party, and realizing only when it was too late that what I'd seen was likely a crime in progress, or (3) being badgered into giving some creepy dude my number, because "You can find me on Facebook" and "I have to go now" were evidently not clear enough indicators of my disinterest, then going home, blessedly alone, in a too-expensive cab, wondering what I was doing with my life and why I'd thought I'd wanted to go out in the first place.
Behold! The stacked odds and everyday horrors of being female and just wanting to dance and drink with your friends! This is the dark, ambivalent, even violent subtext to a night of revelry. The Drunken City captures it with the poignancy and complication it requires, even to the detriment of the play's tonal consistency. And I'm sorry I said all those things about bachelorette parties, because with their unwavering commitment to fun in a realm overrun with bad-vibes dudes and encroaching hangovers brought on by sweet alcohol and mortal dread, they are perhaps a little subversive, for all their boring normative trappings. Theatre Vertigo's certainly is.