Blasting The Bachelors
Feminism and Cole Theatre’s Latest Production
Earlier this year, Cole Theatre’s production of The Bachelors opened and closed in Chicago. It was not recommended.
That is what one would discover upon reading reviews about the Midwest debut of this challenging new play written by Caroline V. McGraw. The Chicago Tribune insisted that the characters “are written to be absolutely not worth your time.” Chicago Reader called it “a very long seventy-five-minute play.” Time Out Chicago asserted that the plot is “a poorly drawn story.” I think the play was unfairly lambasted with an unflinching degree of disparagement.
It is indeed fair to say that the play is dreadful. There are absolutely no redeeming qualities in any of the three despicable characters represented on stage, which is a tough pill to swallow. However, I disagree entirely with the choice to say that the production was not recommended?
Perhaps most intriguing is the fact that some critical responses expressed outrage over the very message the play was attempting to convey.
The play features three male characters who embrace their own misogyny while showboating selfish masculinity in a brutal race towards superiority, yet every shameful decision surfaces a vulnerable degree of emptiness. Laurie, Henry, and Kevlar are postgraduates still reveling in a mirage of college life. The three roommates share a house on fraternity row, each bachelor stumbling through a hazy existence of booze, beer, and empty pizza boxes. Laurie returns from a business trip in Las Vegas, and he discovers Kevlar in drunken disarray after breaking up with his terminally ill girlfriend. From there, it is a downward spiral, and these misogynistic men-children unravel their virulent exteriors. The underlining issue with this play is that, unfortunately, the race never reaches a finish line; nor do these characters ever discover any sense of redemption, and the continuation of their misogyny presents absolutely no resolution. True, it is not a “well made” play.
However, when this particular production was panned, an entire community became hesitant to experience a necessary experiment in feminism. Overlooked was the fact that a female playwright penned a play akin to LaBute and Mamet, male predecessors who have dominated the theatrical game of misogyny for decades. The Bachelors challenges a male-centric genre with confidence, and this concept was fervently captured in Cole Theatre’s feverish production.
The male actors deliver stellar performances. Shane Kenyon provides a powerful performance that rivals his Jeff Award winning run with Steep Theatre’s If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet. Nicholas Bailey’s drug-induced Kevlar is both tortured and revolting, and his drunken stupor is supremely dominated by Boyd Harris’ vile Henry. Each character provides a villainously dynamic side to this misogynistic triangle, and all three actors lay their guts out on the stage. They are guided with brutally graceful precision by director Erica Weiss.
The Bachelors was written by a woman and directed by a woman. In researching both artists, it would be safe to label them feminists, and it would also be safe to say that they embrace the term. In an interview with Brooklyn Rail, McGraw states, “What is evil is our culture of masculinity. The patriarchy is evil in equal degrees to men and women.” Discussing her directorial approach to the McGraw’s play, Erica Weiss reveals,
I would not have thought that my next passion project would be a play about three men—and then Caroline’s creation hit me with razor sharp wit and empathetic insight into the perils and pitfalls of contemporary masculinity. Not only is it incredibly entertaining, this play is incredibly relevant to my interest in featuring the voices of female perspectives and challenging preconceived notions about what topics women can take on.
The fact that critics derived such negative responses is perhaps a sober revelation that a modern world is still uncomfortable with a brutal exploration of misogyny, especially when it is produced by women. Or perhaps The Bachelors is simply a flawed script. Regardless, very few will have had made that decision for themselves because the production was “not recommended.” One could argue this is the precise point of criticism. To evaluate. However, when a solid theatrical production challenges with as much gusto as it entertains, a certain merit is due.
Perhaps most intriguing is the fact that some critical responses expressed outrage over the very message the play was attempting to convey. For instance, New City Stage insists, “Although written by a woman, the play comes off as a statement of patriarchal triumphalism with distinct fascist overtones.” Stage and Cinema posits, “The fact that women wrote and directed Cole Theatre’s new work both deepens this easy indictment of gender evil and highlights the redundancy of so many familiar accusations.” These fiery responses from male critics simply makes this writer want to proclaim, “Yes, but wasn’t that the point?”
The Bachelors showcases misogyny in order to shatter it, and I applaud both director and playwright for those efforts. Cole Theatre deserves recognition and praise for this challenging new production, and may many more follow in their path.