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The Line of the Year 2010 by Matthew Murray

  • BacheloretteBwayStars.jpgTwo years ago, I wrote a column in this space called "Line of the Year", which detailed what I thought was the most memorable single line of dialogue of 2008. I didn't do a similar column last year, because I was too torn between two possibilities. Did I want to choose the hands-down funniest and weirdest line, but one that offered no clear-cut or painless explanation for those who didn't see its show (for the record: "What are shards of glass?" from The Contemporary American's Guide to a Successful Marriage (c) 1949)? Or was I better off with a line that was hideous as both writing, drama, and political commentary, but nonetheless spoke volumes about both the playwright who wrote it and the state of the theatre that could spawn it ("Was the nigger a fag?" from Next Fall)? Luckily, 2010 pose no similar dilemma. The winner this year was categorically found in Leslye Headland's Bachelorette.

    If you saw this production of Second Stage Theatre Uptown at the McGinn-Cazale back in July and August, you already know where I'm going with this. But for everyone else: Headland, in collaboration with director Trip Cullman and actress Katherine Waterston, landed the biggest, most honest, and most innovative laugh of the year with something that barely looks like a joke in the script. It consists of only three words, assembled in an order in which you've undoubtedly heard them dozens, if not hundreds, of times over the course of your life—if not this year alone. But context is everything, and it could not have been better than it was here.

    If you're familiar with Paul Osborn's Morning's at Seven and the climactic resolution of its plot with its own show-stopping throwaway line just minutes before the end of the final act, you have an idea of Headland's accomplishment in Bachelorette. The house exploded and roared for about 30 seconds (an eternity in theatre time) upon hearing something they had every right to believe could never possibly be considered so funny. The best part is that, unlike Pieces on the Board, 2008's winner, discussing this choice piece of dialogue doesn't even spoil the plot.

    Even the setup is ridiculously simple. Becky is getting married in a luxury Manhattan hotel, and her friends Gena, Katie, and Regan have gathered in an upstairs suite for her bachelorette party. Becky hasn't arrived yet, so the girls are doing all the usual things: drinking, drugging themselves silly, and dissing Becky at every opportunity. They have their reasons for this—it's incidental to what we're discussing here, but the play is actually a complex and thoughtful look at the illusions in which both individuals and groups mistakenly find comfort—but the short version is that Becky, who's barely even had a boyfriend, has somehow beat everyone else to the altar. And, oh yeah, she has a rather considerable weight problem. To prove it, the girls drag out her wedding gown, which Katie (Celia Keenan-Bolger this summer) and Regan (the priceless Tracee Chimo) then climb into. Gena (Waterston) tries to get them out of it and, to quote from Headland's stage directions (emphasis hers): "Riiiiiipppppppp!"

    Gena calls the hotel's concierge to find an all-night tailor who can fix the dress, hopefully before Becky finds out. She finds one and then leaves with the gown. Of course, all hell breaks loose while she's gone. The men Regan invited over finally arrive and bring out the worst in both Gena and Katie—so much so in Katie's case, in fact, that she overdoses on pills and falls unconscious. Try as she might, Regan can't wake her up. The only person who's always been able to, every time Katie blacked out during their frantic college years, was Gena—who's now been gone for hours, and just won't answer her phone.

    Naturally, this is when Becky (Carmen M. Herlihy) finally arrives at the suite. Her fiancé has decided the two of them should spend the night before their wedding in separate rooms. Regan can't hide what's happened to Katie, and Becky is justifiably outraged but is sure they can snap her out of her stupor. Fill her full of coffee? Put her in the shower? Lie her down? Everything either doesn't work or could only put Katie in more danger. Luckily, Becky's got a brilliant idea: Call Gena! She wasn't invited to the bachelorette party—Becky and Gena had a falling out over Gena's romance with Becky's brother—but she can always get Katie out of this mess. But where is she?

    Becky gets on Regan's cell phone and starts dialing. Almost immediately, a ringing is heard from outside the door, getting closer. Everyone stops dead still onstage as Gena comes in, hauling and trying—and failing—to hide the garment bag full of the now-repaired wedding gown Becky didn't know was gone. She doesn't see anyone else, but needs to put all her stuff down before she can get her phone. She fumbles around in her purse. She flips open her cell phone, and in doing so sees everyone else in the room staring at her. Dead silence. They exchange base pleasantries, until Becky simply cannot stand it anymore. "What're you doing here?" she asks.

    Waterston, disheveled, battling with the voluminous wedding dress, and barely managing to keep her focus, responded the only way she and her character believably could: in flawless deadpan, words that were all at once angry, bewildered, sarcastic, and so straight-down-the-middle obvious, they could only be the Line of the Year: "You called me."

    What was your Line of the Year? I'd love to know—please e-mail me!

    Photo: Katherine Waterston, Tracee Chimo, and Celia Keenan-Bolger in Bachelorette. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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