This was the show I didn’t know I needed on a Friday evening after a long week at work. Dominion Stage is welcoming back theatre-goers with a delightfully funny production of “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.” The fun starts with the dresses and just goes on from there. In her notes on the play in the program, director Danielle Guy raises the point that this play “is far too much”—the dresses and the amount of material that gets packed into just 70 pages.
Come see this show for the really funny script and stay for the splendid acting and story arc.
I see her point. Because of the number of topics considered—child abuse, substance abuse, classism, sexism, loneliness, evangelicalism, homophobia, fear, settling, trust, and so many more—it could be considered too much. But in the context of the reception at a wedding, it actually feels fitting that so many topics are touched upon by a group of five bridesmaids in seemingly glancing ways. It’s the start of acknowledging and healing, and how often does it really come up in elliptical moments in real life? Lots. Real life isn’t a straight-through dialogue and this play captures that exceedingly well.
How often are women considered too much? Often, according to playwright Alan Ball, so let’s celebrate the fact that women are actually human beings, complicated, and just too much.
Plus, it’s really funny. Snort-laughing funny. Sudden shriek of laughter funny. Hand clapped over the mouth funny. Although, to be honest, I sort of resent the fact that I’ve never met bridesmaids like this when I was bridesmaid material. It doesn’t seem fair.
These bridesmaids are a hot mess. Frances (Rebecca Cooley) is an evangelical Christian, still a virgin, painfully naive, judgmental, but yearning for more even if she doesn’t quite know “more” is. She’s also a cousin of the bride and doesn’t get to the city too often, it seems (Knoxvile). Meredith (Gwyneth Sholar) is the bride’s sister—somewhat estranged, searching for a purpose with her English degree, and damaged from an incident when she was 12 that she is only now beginning to realize was not the great romance she’s made it into in order to survive. Trisha (Brittany Washington) is the friend we all want—grounded, confident, hysterically funny, generous-hearted, and in her own way, very private. It isn’t until nearly the end that we see that she’s dealing with some serious trust issues and ready to take some steps toward a real relationship. Georgeanne (Melanie Kurstin) is suffering through a bad marriage and imagines herself in love with the town’s heartthrob. She’s also drinking too much so some of her choices seem questionable, but these women won’t judge (with the exception of Frances) and they embrace her. She’s also the self-described “ugly sidekick” of the bride from high school, although, at the time of the wedding, they are also somewhat estranged. Mindy (Gabby Carter) is the sister of the groom—a lesbian, also hysterically funny (Carter has dry delivery and line toss-off down pat and I thought of Carol Burnett a couple of times), and is probably the most together character.
The final character is Tripp (Cameron Powell). He’s a match for Trisha with the quips and repartee, but wants more. He wants that real relationship. Tripp doesn’t appear until the final 15 minutes or so, which is nice. This show is about the women and even when discussing the odious Tommy Valentine, it’s the women’s reactions to him that matter. Powell handles the role with a deft, light touch.
One genius thing that Alan Ball has done is never show the character that runs underneath many of these near crises (and don’t weddings so often bring up these crises?)—Tommy Valentine. He is one link between all of these women, including the never-seen bride, Tracey, because he has either slept with or hit on all of them. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in Knoxville he hasn’t bedded, with the possible exception of one of the wedding guests with whom he ultimately leaves (she wears a navy blue, linen backless dress and this is an important point in the show). The other unseen character is the groom, Scott McClure. He is handsome, wealthy, and a perfect foil for the fabulous Tracey. Only it comes out that Tracey doesn’t have any friends, so that’s why these women were asked to be bridesmaids.
Cooley, Sholar, Washington, Kurstin, and Carter are wonderful. From Frances’s first entrance, giddy with complete joy at being witness to a sacred rite (her words), to the final group photograph of this little band of Pepto-Bismol-pink-clad sisterhood (complete with the big bow, mind-blowingly ugly high heels, and a hat that’s like the rings of a gaudy Saturn paired with a donut cushion). These ladies gift us with fully-fleshed out characters that feel real. We care about what will happen to them in the future.
In director Danielle Guy’s hands, the show feels leisurely but the time flies by. The set design, also by Guy, looks a little underwhelming, although the pink theme is carried throughout as the action takes place in Meredith’s girlhood bedroom (this is the South, after all). It was hard to tell if the bed was just a daybed hidden by stuffed animals and pillows or just a really short bed, but a real bed (and the stage had room) would have looked more realistic. Set dresser Charles Dragonette and properties designer Amber Kilpatrick fill out the room with the stuffed animals, pillows, swaths of cloth, a girly comforter, a rather nice bench in front of the rose-draped window, and a beaded bedroom door that is over-the-top frilly and too much. It’s perfect. It underscores Meredith’s increasing claustrophobia and dissatisfaction with her life and past.
Costume design is by Anna Marquardt, and she did a spot-on job creating the bridesmaids’ dresses that will indeed make the bride look sane and lovely by comparison (unless she had one of those hats in white with a veil—I’d love to know). Hair and make-up design is by Maurissa Weiner who was up to the challenge of creating hairstyles that could tolerate those hats.
Co-lighting designers Kimberly Crago and Jeff Auerbach use the changing light of an afternoon reception to highlight the passing of time from after the wedding to the get-away by the bride and groom. Sound design is by Christopher Beatley.
Come see this show for the really funny script and stay for the splendid acting and story arc. This is a production that provides respite from the ongoing drama of reality and unabashedly celebrates when women are just too much. That’s a pleasant way to start the weekend.
Running Time: Approximately an hour and 55 minutes including intermission.
Show Advisory: Alcohol and drug use, adult language, some discussion of child sexual abuse and frank discussion about sex.
“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” runs through November 20, 2021 at Dominion Stage at Gunston Theatre Two, 2700 S Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and more information, please click here.