Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking Blog are pleased to present the following review of FIVE WOMEN WEARING THE SAME DRESS by the Suffield Players
Through February 25th
Put a room full of women together who are bound by a common purpose (whether or not they know each other well), add some alcohol, and you’ll find that just about anything goes. And it’s likely that most men out there have little idea about what often occurs in such a situation or even what subjects may be open for discussion – although in truth, it often is they (the male persuasion) who become the prime focus. What is liable to transpire is a combination of locker room banter, some communal armchair psychotherapy, and a whole lot of bar room whooping it up. At least that’s what playwright (as well as producer, director, and writer for film and television) Alan Ball illustrates in his bitingly funny, pepperingly dramatic 1993 “contemporary comedy,” Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, performed by the Suffield Players at Mapleton Hall.
Few women at some time in their lives haven’t found themselves forced to don some awfully unflattering get-up, maybe even one thrust upon them by a snarling Bridezilla – and that’s the crux of the matter for Trisha (Karen Balaska), Frances (Amy Lambert), Mindy (Jen Rawlings), Meredith (Tina Sparkle), and Georgeanne (Trish Urso). While the five feisty females may share the same “uniform,” they hail from completely different parts of bride Tracy’s life, and therefore are entirely mismatched in their assemblage. But despite their dissimilar personalities and histories, each of them can’t help but wonder the same thing: why they’ve even been asked to be such an important part of Tracy’s celebration. And further, whether she has any real friends; because Tracy, whom we never see, would appear to have it all, except genuine relationships. What’s more, they all have something else in common – they don’t think very much of the diva lady in white.
Ball begins by drawing us a picture like one crafted by a caricature artist on a New York City street corner: five stereotypical hideous bridesmaids decked out in identical ugly salmon-pink dresses, complete with ridiculously poufy petticoats and beyond dreadful hats (there actually are websites devoted to this type of calamitous misfortune). But before long, they each morph into three-dimensional people with pasts, secrets, insecurities, and adversities, as well as hopes, desires, and dreams. As their stories unfold, each dances with and around one another through a sidesplittingly funny Act I which takes place entirely in sister-of-the-bride Meredith’s bedroom. There they’ve hidden themselves away to avoid the over-the-top spectacle of a reception – and the more alcohol and marijuana they consume, the more their inhibition-less mouths reveal.
Meredith is in the wedding merely out of sisterly obligation. She’s rebellious, angsty, and emotional. She hates her sister and takes no prisoners; Sparkle is fabulous and rocks both a leather jacket and a Mickey Mouse tee to the hilt. Frances is the first cousin of Meredith and Tracy – she’s a holier-than-thou Christian who readily forces her views down everyone’s throat. Lambert is spot-on as the wide-eyed proselytizer who’s got a penchant for sparkly things. Trisha lets on that she was formerly Tracy’s youthful BFF but was disliked by the family as she had a bad-girl influence on her. Having lost touch, she’s not sure at all why she’s been included in the wedding party, but she’s happy to lay eyes (or other body parts) on any of the many pleasing male forms roaming the wedding reception. The always enjoyable Balaska (whom we’ve had the pleasure of seeing before at Suffield) slathers it on as the jaded, guarded, promiscuous yet mature one of the bunch who’s always up for a good time.
Georgeanne believes herself to be the ugly friend – the sidekick who only ever was around to make Tracy look good. She’s currently married to a man she doesn’t love and is hung up on the very same guy (and wedding guest) who formerly dated, slept with, or hit on the rest of the five. From the get-go, the wildly humorous Urso makes an impactful entrance, sick off the champagne she’s copped from the bartender and has been chugging right from the bottle since the reception began. The cool and quirky Mindy is Tracy’s new sister-in-law, proud to be a lesbian, but angry that her partner has snubbed by Tracy. She’s a neurotic debutante who’s always eating – Rawlings displays wonderful comedic timing and I personally wondered how she wasn’t nauseous from eating throughout the entire performance.
The only testosterone which permeated the stage was in the form of a single gentleman by the name of Tripp; an honest, romantic sort who’s looking for his match. Played by Shaun O’Keefe, whom we’ve also seen before at Suffield in the incredible Night Sky, among others, is pure delight. Despite the man-bashing done through Act I and most of Act II, Tripp comes in to redeem the opposite sex, juxtaposed against the many others who’ve regularly wronged the five.
Director Kelly Seip did a phenomenal job leading this talented cast through Ball’s quick, sometimes cutting, a little bit crass, and always clever dialogue. Blending the comedic with the serious can be a challenge and the able bunch navigated it superbly. I left scratching my head, however, over the playwright’s decision to include (but leave unfinished) one very grave and revelatory scene which made the story take a fleetingly darker turn in Act II. It seemed misplaced, not because of its insertion, but purely in its lack of resolution. In fact, it was one of the truest moments in the entire production, bringing together the group of women in a very real, warm, and compassionate way – one which almost brought me to tears. In addition, there was a second scene which felt to me like a “play within a play” – incredibly well acted by Balaska and O’Keefe, but one which again, seemed slightly misplaced.
One of my favorite things to do as a production begins is to take in the set and all of its nuances – and Suffield did not disappoint! Seip, a woman of many hats, created a true-to-life bedroom which made the audience feel as if they also were a part of the wedding party’s raucous confab. Kudos also to the others who brought Five Women to life: costume designer Dawn McKay, lighting designer Jerry Zalewski, and sound technician Bob Demetrius, as well as the countless production crew members, including stage manager extraordinaire Mary Fernandez-Sierra (who also is publicity director) and producer Ron Balaska (who also is the president of the Board of Directors).
At some point in our lives we’ve all found ourselves or our views challenged. We’ve bumped into or cried over our exes (or bumped into someone who’s also dated them). We’ve had too much to drink and said things we shouldn’t have or acted foolishly. And for sure, we’ve found ourselves at events we’d rather not be – but if you can, catch one of Suffield’s final performances of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, because for certain, it is an event you’ll be thrilled to have attended!
Alan Ball is an Academy and Emmy Award winning writer, producer, director best known for American Beauty, HBO’s Six Feet Under and True Blood. But we can see his penchant for writing screenplays in one of the few stage plays he has written, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress. I am not talking about the witty and realistic repartee among the characters, or the fast-paced action which almost rises to the level of farce, or the subtle intermingling of tragedy and comedy. Instead, I am talking about his ability to capture the perfect log line for the play in the title. You know with a name like Five Women Wearing the Same Dress there’s going to be snarky back-biting, rivalry, jealousy, miscommunications, misunderstandings, and men in common.
And sure enough, The Suffield Players’ wonderful production of Alan Ball’s Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, there is all of the above and more.
The play takes place in 1993 at the wedding of a ne’er do well family in Knoxville, Tennessee. Five bridesmaids wearing ridiculous matching outfits and whom we come to learn are only remotely related in some way to the bride seek refuge in an upstairs bedroom. The five include Frances, the bride’s cousin, Meredith, the bride’s sister, Trisha, the bride’s old friend and sometimes rival, Georgeanne a former friend/enemy of the bride and Mindy, the groom’s sister. The laws of gravity are in full force and effect and there is a direct proportion to the amount of alcohol that is consumed by the characters during the play and their willingness to share secrets, confidences, gossip, and personal stories. By the end of the play, we have gotten to know (and like) the characters fairly well and realize that all five have more in common than the same bridesmaid dress. For example, four out of the five (including the bride) have had carnal knowledge of a scoundrel named Tommy Valentine. They also have low opinions of the ostentatious bride, Tracy, her “wet toast” of a groom, Scott, and ultimately come to the conclusion that they were selected as bridesmaids because the bride has no real friends. They also share, for the most part, similar views of men – that basically they are all rotten to the core.
Each of the women can be placed into neat categories at the beginning of the play: Frances, the Fundamentalist Christian, Meredith, the rebellious, envious younger sibling, Georgeanne, the frustrated wife and mother, Mindy, the lesbian, and Trisha, the slut. By the end of the play, however, we find that our earlier assessments are erroneous, the characters actually defy categorization and are, in reality, acutely nuanced and layered. This is a technique found in many other works including The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, First Wives ‘ Club and even Alan Ball’s very own American Beauty (which incidentally started out as a play in the early 90s and was shelved for years until Ball turned it into a screenplay).
Kelly Seip assembled an amazing and talented cast and did an awesome job directing. The pacing and staging were excellent. Karen Balaska was simply wonderful as Trisha, the somewhat cynical and jaded woman with a reputation (and passion) for sex, drugs, and one night stands. Relative newcomer Amy Lambert was refreshing and funny as Frances, “I’m a Christian,” fundamentalist. Tina Sparkle displayed her versatile range as an actress portraying the ups and downs of Meredith, the envious, rebellious, substance abusing younger sibling. Trish Urso brought just the right mix of lovelorn pathos, self-pity and humor to the role of Georgeanne. Jen Rawlings is thoroughly enjoyable to watch as Mindy, the hyper-metabolic, hors d’oeurve addicted, snarky lesbian. The chemistry among the actresses is palpable and the smart and often risqué dialogue flows as easily among them as five drunken sailors in a bar. In fact, the delivery of the dialogue was so natural that I was reminded of the “guy talk” in HBO’s Entourage. I always thought that a lot of it was ad-libbed because it was so realistic. (I later found out that Entourage was not only tightly scripted but many of the episodes were directed by women.)
The representation of the male species rested squarely on Shaun O’Keefe’s broad shoulders, since he played Tripp, the only male character in the show. Pillow Talking loved his past performances in Is There Life After High School? and Night Sky and are thrilled to report that he did his usual magnificent job here. His portrayal and character’s behavior was in stark contrast to the men lambasted by the bridesmaids throughout the play. I truly believe that Alan Ball created his character to show that there are men out there (rare though they may be) who are not just interested in wild, drug-fueled hotel sex and wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am affairs. Thank you, Shaun, for redeeming decent and upstanding menfolk!
The characters who are not seen, but are so aptly described by the cast should be mentioned as their presences (like the non-appearing Godot) are felt. So here is a toast to the wet toast men ever so carefully painted by the women: the unscrupulous sociopath, Tony Valentine; Scott, the obviously whipped groom, Scott; the unnamed bisexual lifeguard who cheated on Trish; and the erectile dysfunctional, beer pouring on the head husband of Georgeanne. We also came to know the ostentatious, audacious, and friendless bride, Tracy, who would make a perfect candidate for the next Bridezilla installment.
If I had any criticisms at all, it is with Alan Ball’s structure of the script and not The Suffield Player’s brilliant interpretation of it. Without giving away too much, the play rises to a climax when a long hidden secret about Tommy Valentine is revealed and then is abruptly dropped without any resolution or closure. This makes the scene between Tripp and Trish at the end of the second act seem out of context. Nevertheless, the scene itself is thoroughly engaging and both Shaun and Karen made it work because of their strong performances. (Similar instances of dropped or unresolved themes and issues can be found in Alan Ball’s other works, most notably American Beauty).
Kudos must go to Kelly Seip who doubled as set designer and the set construction chief and crew who did an absolutely fantastic job. Indeed, the attention to details and solid workmanship rivaled Off-Broadway sets. Triple backstage threat Jerry Zalewski served several integral functions including lighting design. Sound Technician Bob Demetrius was spot on (or rather mike on) with the audio. And, last but certainly not least, a big shout out to theatre veteran and Stage Manager for this production, Mary Fernandez-Sierra.
The Suffield Players are unique is many ways not the least of which is their eclectic and sometimes daring selection of plays. Thank you Suffield Players for bringing this little known and underproduced, but highly significant and poignant play by the award-winning Alan Ball.