Bridesmaids dish the dirt on the bride and each other in this dark comedy
Published: October 6, 2010
Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
By Alan Ball
Through Oct. 16 at the Mobtown Theater
Six Feet Under and True Blood creator Alan Ball might be, at this point, the reigning king of dark dramedy. But in the Mobtown Players’ current performance of his 1993 play, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, the surrealist wit and strong characters for which he is so well known don’t quite come through.
Directed by Mobtown Board President Melissa O’Brien, Five Women follows five bridesmaids at an early 1990s wedding in Knoxville, Tenn. They gather in a room during the reception to drink, smoke pot, and muse on their tepid relationships with the never-seen bride Tracy and with past lovers.
Meredith (Scout Seide), Tracy’s sister, is a recent college graduate who resents the debutante values her family has tried to instill in her, and is jealous of her older sister’s supposed perfection. Trischa (April Rejman), one of Tracy’s childhood friends, is proudly promiscuous, but feels that she will never meet a man she could love or marry. Another childhood friend, Georgeanne (Evangeline Rich), is locked in a loveless marriage, and has fallen out of touch with Tracy over the years because Tracy’s former fiance, Tommy Valentine (also never seen), impregnated Georgeanne in college and abandoned her when she had an abortion.
Frances (Tess Pohlhaus), Tracy and Meredith’s cousin, is deeply religious, profoundly innocent, and shocked by the other bridesmaids’ language, alcohol consumption, sexual pasts, and drug use. Mindy (Nikki Cimino), the groom’s sister, feels that her high-society family—and Tracy—abandoned her after she came out as a lesbian. All the bridesmaids, with the exception of Frances, discuss grave injustices committed to them or to other women by men, by Tracy, and by society as a whole, and commiserate about aging. During the course of the play, Trischa also carries on a flirtation with Tripp Davenport (Jeb Beard), the groom’s cousin, and Frances is asked out on a date by a much-older bartender.
While Five Women makes some interesting points about the nature of relationships between men and women, childhood friends, and families, the relentless banter between the bridesmaids drags on quite a bit, especially in the play’s second act. The dialogue occasionally borders on melodrama, centering too much on revealing the characters’ painful pasts in ways that are not particularly earnest or earned. In addition, the growing relationship between Trischa and Tripp seems forced and unnecessary, a romantic throw-in to an otherwise flashback-centric storyline.
More importantly, the writing and plot lacks creativity; there are only so many ways a character can harp on how horrible men can be without getting stale quick. It feels strange that a writer like Ball, from whose mind has sprung such twisted, inspired dark comedy, could create such a stereotyped look into women’s lives and how women talk to one another.
But complaints about the actual script aside, the Mobtown Players put on a superb show with the material at hand. Seide’s Meredith manages at once to be bitingly sarcastic and deeply wounded. Pohlhaus’ Frances is appropriately naïve and staunchly conservative, yet still sympathetic, a sheltered, self-proclaimed Christian who shields herself from her fellow bridesmaids’ suffering by sticking close to her religion’s strict parameters. Rich and Cimino put on rip-roaring performances, stealing the show with their quick comedic timing and wonderful wit. Rich is spot-on as the lovelorn Georgeanne, delivering the downtrodden young wife’s self-deprecating humor and insatiable sadness with a perfect pitch. It is difficult to pity Georgeanne, who hates her husband, her child, and her life, because she is so deceptively glib about it all, but somehow that is what makes her all the more endearing.
Cimino’s performance as Mindy, the former debutante whose family cast her aside due to her sexual orientation, is just as wonderful. She is a fiery presence onstage, snacking on hors d’oeuvres and dispensing honest life advice at a mile a minute. The dialogue itself may be disappointing, but when it came from Cimino, it sparked an otherwise lacking energy.
The only lukewarm performance came from Buscher, whose Trischa came off as cold and bland in a sea of otherwise sparkling personalities. Some of this, however, is likely due to Trischa’s characterization as a woman who has shut herself off to love and possibility, rather than as a result of any failings as an actress on Buscher’s part.
Five Women Wearing the Same Dress had some meaningful moments, and was propelled, undoubtedly, by its actors’ strong performances, as well as by O’Brien’s tight directing. But it doesn’t quite pack the punch one might expect from a Ball script, or from a Mobtown Players production, and that in itself is disappointing.
Editor's Note: This review incorrectly identified the actor who played Trischa as Cate Buscher. The role that evening was performed by April Rejman. City Paper regrets the error.