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Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
by Alan Ball
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
June 9, 2016

Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari, Lindsay Gingrich, Eileen Engel, Shannon Nara. Kevin O’Brien Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari, Lindsay Gingrich, Eileen Engel, Shannon Nara. Kevin O’Brien
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

It’s wedding season in St. Louis theatre. As director Gary F. Bell mentioned in his pre-show introduction to Stray Dog Theatre’s latest production of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, several local theatre companies are currently staging plays that feature weddings in some way.  There are many aspects of weddings that can be featured in theatre, and for SDT, the featured production is focused on the bridesmaids. A character study that features a collection of contrasting personalities, this show depends largely on the strength of its cast, and SDT’s production certainly delivers in that area.

There are six on stage characters in this play, although several off stage characters are also important to the proceedings. Tracy and Scott, the bride and groom, are never seen but are often talked about, as is another wedding guest, Tommy, who has somehow affected the lives of most of the bridesmaids. The focus here, though, is on the “five women” of the play’s title–a disparate collection of characters who are all connected with the bride or groom in various ways, and whose personalities widely differ. There’s the bride’s younger sister, the tough-talking Meredith (Lindsay Gringrich); the devout young cousin Frances (Eileen Engel); the sexually adventurous but romantically reticent friend of the bride Trisha (Sarajane Alverson); the unhappily married Georgeanne (Shannon Nara); and the groom’s plain-spoken sister Mindy (Frankie Ferrari). There’s also the good-natured Tripp (Kevin O’Brien), a wedding guest and cousin of the groom who pursues the wary Trisha. Although there is one male character, though, the story mostly revolves around the women, and their differing stories and personalities.

There are many surprises in this script, so there’s not much I can say in detail about the plot. The tone is mostly comedic, although there are some moments of drama, and the focus is on the contrasting personalities and backgrounds of the bridesmaids, and especially their romantic experiences and their attitudes toward love and marriage. The perspectives vary widely, from the virginal Frances, who’s quick to tell everyone she’s a Christian, to the more worldly and jaded Trisha, to the confident lesbian Mindy, and to Meredith and Geogeanne, both of whom are harboring their own secrets.  The characters are well-defined and not especially stereotypical, which is a credit to the playwright, although there are also some stories that aren’t given a proper conclusion, and an ending that seems a little too tidy. Still, it’s an interesting study of these contrasting characters, extremely well-played by the excellent cast, with Alverson’s brash Trisha, Ferrari’s frank Mindy, and Gingrich’s rebellious but guarded Meredith as standouts, although every cast member has excellent moments, and the acting chemistry between all six performers is extremely strong.

The setting of a bedroom in a suburban Tennessee house in the early 1990’s is well-realized, with director and scenic designer Gary F. Bell’s set providing the ideal backdrop for the play’s action. Eileen Engel’s costumes are a highlight as well, with the colorfully tacky bridesmides dresses that seem appropriate to the era, as well as being an indication of the character of the unseen bride who would have chosen these outfits. All the technical elements are well-done, including Tyler Duenow’s lighting and Justin Been’s sound.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress isn’t a perfect play, but it’s an entertaining one. With well-defined, ideally cast characters and a richly detailed setting, the play is at turns funny, dramatic, and at times disturbing, although there is certainly a hopeful tone toward the end. It’s a memorable representation of what turns out to be an eventful wedding for the characters involved.

Shannon Nara, Eileen Engel, Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Shannon Nara, Eileen Engel, Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is being presented by Stray Dog Theatre at Tower Grove Abbey until June 25, 2016.

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