By Show and Tell
By Bree Davies
By Bree Davies
By Cory Casciato
By Emilie Johnson
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davis
By Josiah M. Hesse
Conventional as the situation is, the first act works. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is an early script by Alan Ball, who went on to write screenplays for the much-acclaimed film American Beauty and the HBO dramatic series Six Feet Under. The dialogue is witty, and the women are interesting. Despite her frilly bedroom, Meredith is a rebel who likes to smoke dope and shock her elders -- hence the Malcolm X poster. She's given a lively portrayal by Bethany LaVoo (who has a day job in Westword's classified department). Cousin Frances (Andrea Dammerman) is a sweet, slightly befuddled, totally teetotaling Christian. Then there's the bride's best, but somewhat estranged, friend, Trisha (Ann Rickhoff) -- poised, slightly wicked and cynical about men. The bridegroom's sister, Mindy, is a lesbian, played refreshingly against type by Annie Li Gavin. And finally, there's Rhonda Brown as Georgeanne, loud, drunken, desperate -- and pretty much stealing any scene she enters.
It's fun watching these women interact, and it's interesting to see how differently each of them handles her hideous bridesmaid's dress: Sexy Trisha is forever smoothing the bodice; Frances is rather taken with hers; Georgeanne hauls her skirt around like a truck driver in drag; Mindy bumps into furniture; and Meredith finally pulls the pink-chiffon torture device completely off her body and abandons it in a pouffy heap on the floor. Periodically, everyone stops whatever she's doing to discuss handsome Tommy Valentine, with whom it seems almost all the women have at one time or another had a fling and who is apparently outside mingling -- and flirting mightily -- with the guests. When the dialogue focuses on him, it sings: There are eloquent testimonials to his beauty and endless references to his conquests, as well as Georgeanne's moony memories of sex with him in a parking lot behind a steaming garbage truck.
Intermission came, and I was interested and happy. Although the first act had consisted of a lot more talk than action, I felt myself in good hands. The setup was intriguing, and I expected some development in the next act that would bring everything into focus. The much-reviled bride would enter, and we'd find out why Meredith hated her. The persistent and ignored phone calls would be not from the sisters' nagging mother, but from someone else entirely. We'd learn why a conventionally unconventional little Southern girl kept a poster of Malcolm X on her wall (the play was written in 1993, by which time Malcolm may have been seen more as a fashion statement than a pivotal political figure). There'd be a revelation about Tommy Valentine or, even better, he'd actually appear.
None of this happens. The play just sputters into incoherence. At one point, Trisha begins lecturing Frances on her religious intolerance, and it sounds for all the world like one of Julia Sugarbaker's self-righteous diatribes on Designing Women. You cock your ear for easy applause and the laugh track. Mere-dith reveals a seamy childhood episode (I think this is intended as a climactic and revelatory moment), and Trisha and Mindy respond with the twelve-step script: "That wasn't love, Meredith, that was abuse." Meredith hurls a pointed homophobic barb at Mindy, Mindy reacts, and the moment vanishes into the abyss. No resolution, no aftermath -- though the actresses do try to salvage some sense by exchanging a brief meaningful look the next time they're called on to address each other.
Ball throws in one new element: A man enters this hitherto entirely female environment. He's Trip Davenport (Daniel Langhoff), one of the guests, and it seems Trisha has a thing for him. The two engage in one of those arch, flirtatious verbal sequences of thrust and parry that can enthrall only the participants. It lacks any suspense: We know they'll end up together, and we wish they'd get on with it. When some of the bridesmaids re-enter -- on cue, just as Trip and Trisha's lips meet -- it's a relief. Of course, the final scene shows everyone posing for photographs, each bridesmaid in a typical pose, and all of them wearing sunglasses.
Five Women is worth seeing for the liveliness of the actresses, supported by Angela Foster's skilled direction and Richard H. Pegg's stage and lighting design. And the script does have moments of insight. Still, you can't help feeling this production does the play far better than it deserves.