Five Women Wearing the Same Dress

By - Jun 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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Writer/Director Alan Ball has met with considerable success in film and TV. His film American Beauty won an Academy Award while his TV series Six Feet Under garnered him two Golden Globes and no less than six Emmys. Before any of that, however, Ball earned a degree in theatre. In 1993 he wrote a comedy for the stage about a group of bridesmaids in Tennessee and Sunset Playhouse presents its production of that very play as the penultimate show of its season.

Bialystock and Bloom co-founder Jonathan West directs the Sunset production of Ball’s Five Women Wearing the Same Dress. It’s the story of five bridesmaids who seek refuge from a wedding reception in an upstairs bedroom. There’s very little plot here beyond the personalities of each of the women as they become better acquainted. While the character development feels a bit forced and an amateurish attempt to tie everything together with some of moral about the nature of love stains the ending, for the most part Ball lets the conversation between the five women become the play. Ball has a particularly shrewd sense of humor in language that is the real center of the comedy. Everything beyond the dialogue is just there to give it a place to be. A clever writer in his own right, West’s direction here has an interesting attention to detail and a particularly deft sense of how dialogue-centered comedy works on stage.

The cast consists almost entirely of the five young bridesmaids. Actresses reflect the relative ages of their characters pretty well, but there is a bit of confusion as to how old everyone is, as they all appear to be pretty much the same age: quite young, but not in high school. Southern accents also mar things a bit, as no one here manages an authentic accent for the entire length of the play. Other than that, the performances here are all noteworthy with a few instances of real comedic inspiration.

The bedroom belongs to Meredith Marlow: sister of the bride played by Victoria Hudziak. Hudziak is bitter and annoyed with the whole wedding and has escaped to her room in an effort to get at least mildly stoned so that the whole affair can be a bit more bearable. Hudziak holds the comedy of bitterness quite well, but very little can be done when Ball tries to fuse too much darkness into the character.

Before Meredith enters, Frances, the innocent, religious cousin of the bride, sneaks into the room to engage in a bit of physical comedy. Ball doesn’t provide very convincing depth for what is essentially a generic religious stereotype. Actress Nikki Hoch finds a sweet humanity in the character, nonetheless. Hoch’s comedic presence is subtle but powerfully effective whenever she’s onstage.

Not long after we meet Frances and Meredith, Trisha enters. Trisha is an old friend of the bride who is fiercely independent. Elizabeth M. Keefe plays Meredith in a magnetic performance. She’s had many men, but has never felt strongly enough about any of them to fall into a serious relationship. Trisha’s conversation with Tripp (played by a charismatic Darrel Cherney – the one guy in the story) seems a bit unnecessary. Throwing a guy into the play seems to have been a weak attempt at tying things up in a quaint resolution at the end. However, Keefe and Cherney have more than enough chemistry to make the scene work. Their delicate verbal tango is fun to watch, but that doesn’t make it seem any more important to the story.

Making her professional theatre debut, Shannon Nettesheim plays Georganne, a friend of the bride from high school. This is a strange moment in Georganne’s life and Nettesheim plays it with a real sense of strength. She has a very natural sense for comedy. It’ll be interesting to see her in future productions around Milwaukee.

Marilou F. Davido rounds out the central cast of the play as Mindy, the clumsy lesbian sister of the bride. Davido, who played the title role in Sunset’s production of Sylvia some time ago, has a presence that has made her a star in leading roles in the past. Here she seems just as comfortable as part of an ensemble as she is at the center of the stage.

Technical aspects of the play were up to the Sunset’s usual standards. J Michael Desper’s set is beautiful. Desper makes full use of the entire stage. This isn’t just the bedroom of some suburban home in Knoxville, Tennessee – this is a massive thing that is almost an apartment in and of itself. It’s not that hard to picture how big the rest of the house is and, consequently, how big the wedding must have been. Ray Dobeck’s costume design is a bit reserved. In the script, so much is made of how awful the bridesmaid’s dresses are. Depending on the wedding, bridesmaid’s dresses range from being reasonably elegant to being some of the most ridiculous looking things ever designed. Here they actually look pretty comfortable and functional. It would have been nice if Dobeck gone with something much more ostentatious as that little bit of comedic opportunity seems to have been missed. Regardless of that minor detail, the play is worth rushing out to Elm Grove to see. It does drag a bit at the end, but Five Women is a great deal of fun. VS

Sunset Playhouse’s production of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress runs now through June 16th in Elm Grove. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 262-782-4430 or online at www.sunsetplayhouse.com.

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