Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, by Alan Ball. Directed by Kevin Paul Wixsom. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Deb Asch, Sara Clement, Heather Ogle, Leah Marie Parker; photo: John Kickery at Kickery Kreative Photography
"You're at a real boring party and only you and he have drugs."
It is 1993 (or perhaps today) and five women take possession of an upstairs bedroom in the home of the bride at her wedding reception. These are the bridesmaids and they have very little in common, with the exception, perhaps, of a wedding attendee named Tommy Valentine who was once engaged to the bride. Three of the women, including the bride's baby sister, have slept with Tommy. We also have a cousin of the bride who is a self-announced "Christian" whose morals plant her back a hundred years and the sister of the groom, an equally self-pronounced "Lesbian." What each of them has realized at this wedding is that none of them really, truly know the bride and none of them can call her a "friend."
The play is set is Knoxville, Tennessee. The women are basically all southern belles of one sort or another. One is married. One is determinedly single. One is an undeclared paranoid schizophrenic. Taken all in all, we have one Melanie Wilkes, three Scarlett O'Haras and one chick out of a Marlon Brando flick. What we don't have, sad to say, is a genuine comedy in spite of the funny allusion in that title to a comic situation.
Sheila Wood; photo: John Kickery at Kickery Kreative Photography
Apparently someone thinks that Southern Belles are languid people. Not these broads. These women are snappy, snippy and snipey. As directed the five women in the Town Players production are exhausted, reluctant to speak, non-reactors. One says a line - there is a pause - another says a line. Repeat ad nauseum. For two hours and thirteen minutes (with the intermission) this play drags on in its southern fashion making me wonder why, if this is how the folks down south do things, the Civil War took so long. The play would be closer to two hours if the actresses, and the one actor, could just be honestly involved in their conversations.
Sheila Wood is Frances, the Christian and the youngest in the bunch. Her southern accent is the least specific and the easiest to understand from beginning to end. She has a lovely way of standing up for her character's beliefs and she gets most of the laughs in the play by just being real.
Sara Clement is married Georgeanne, mourning her lost love and drinking the most champagne. Her highly tragic entrance should be a funny moment but her sense of realism is just too real. Throughout the play she verged on sweet comedy, but she didn't quite make it to the laugh track although her work in the play is one half of the lynchpin of the plot. She is very good at the serious stuff.
Heather Ogle as Trisha (re-spell it as Trashi and you've got her character) and she is the best actress on this stage. Her character has character and like it or not, you have to like this woman. Ogle plays her with sincerity and reality and she almost has the right cynical quality for the role. She gets laughs now and then and also has the only romantic moments in the play, ones she takes to another level that saves the second act from pure maudlinism.
Leah Marie Parker is Meredith, baby sister, in whose room the play takes place. Critical of others, critical of herself, Meredith harbors secrets which come out in the course of the play. She is the ultimate "O'Hara" except that she has very little sense of humor about anyone - others or herself. Parker plays her in a straightforward manner and allows us to sympathize with her when we can, which isn't as often as the character requires.
Thomas Suski plays the very desireable Tripp, the only man in the play. He is a shade too soft, I think, in the role and not the stud spoken of earlier in the text. It is easy to like this character and still find him insufferably commonplace, but in this production he has fallen into the languid rhythm provided to the five women and he loses ground through the lengthy pauses. He is not the natural seducer who may be more honest than he wishes to be.
As the Lesbian outsider (is that an oxymoron?) sister of the groom, Mindy, is Deb Asch. In vocal tone, delivery of lines and movement, she is really on the far side of the room. Her performance is a clue to what the play could be: brittle, engaging, charming and pretty. If the rest of the company could only take their cue from her style this show would move along nicely and register its messages with alacrity. While not the focus role in the play, Asch's work here is the focus performance.
Director Kevin Paul Wixsom has delivered an interesting sense of relationships. None of these women are huggy and we get that nicely from the way he has staged them, even in their looser and more honest back-and-forths. He has seemingly allowed them free reign in their interpretations, honing where he could, but his usual fine work is absent in this one. Too much time spent waiting for someone to say something brings the show down to a fist in the face yawn.
Todd Hamilton's set design is wonderfully cluttered and personal. Miss Sally Filkins' costumes work wonderfully. Rob Dumais' lighting design is honestly realistic. John Fletcher's sound design work is sketchy but fine.
The Town Players begins its 95th season in Pittsfield with this play. It's not the best work they've delivered but it does provide some interesting people with some interesting possibilities and that's always a good thing. Not recommended for children, it is an adult comedy (nobody dies!) with a few laughs along the way and characters we can all understand.
Five Women Wearing the Same Dressplays at the Whitney Center for the Arts on Wendell Avenue in Pittsfield, MA through September 27. For information and tickets contact The Town Players at www.townplayers.org.