SOUTH BEND —Even if you’ve never been a bridesmaid (plus all the men in the audience), you’ve heard enough jokes about the outfits demanded by the bride for her “ladies in waiting” to sympathize with “5 Women Wearing the Same Dress,” the characters in the current South Bend Civic Theatre production which opened Friday evening in the Warner Studio Theatre. Playwright Alan Ball, who earned an Oscar for his 2000 screenplay “American Beauty” and is listed as producer/director/writer for the HBO hits “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood,” is a native of Atlanta, GA. Not surprising then that he turned his pen to a “Steel Magnolias”—style situation (although one man intrudes in the end) for this 1993 play. The primary difference is the tone of the women — more Joan Rivers than Dinah Shore. The setting is a society wedding reception at the home of the bride in Knoxville, Tenn., specifically the bedroom of the bride’s sister, Meredith Marlow (Carlie Barr), where she and her fellow attendents gather to drink, dish, do drugs and generally dissect the bride and several of the male guests.
In addition to sister Meredith, a tough-talking, pot-smoking hippie wannabe, making up the quintet of bridesmaids are Frances (Nicole Brinkmann Reeves), the bride’s naive, religious cousin; Trisha (Consuela Gabrielle Howell), the bride’s former best friend, described by the bride’s mother as “the reigning queen of bad reputations,” whose many sexual connections have never resulted in a guy who measures up; Georgeanne (Stephanie J. Salisbury), middle school “ugly sidekick” of the bride now unhappily-married to”the biggest piece of wet toast I ever met” and connected throughout to a champagne bottle; and Mindy (Amelia Sinnott), the groom’s outspoken lesbian sister. The only man is Griffen Lyle Davenport III, aka Tripp (Steven M. Cole), an usher obviously brought on after two hours of male-bashing as a reminder that all guys are not bad.. The women all have a connection to Tommy Valentine, a promiscuous but unseen guest who is a major topic of conversation and lustful reminiscences.
As the evening progresses, the obvious question becomes why these five were selected as bridesmaids. All have little or no use for the bride, whom one describes as “a rich, white, Republican bitch.” As their bonding increases, they find closer connections to each other. All the actors in this ensemble piece are more than credible, given the very surface roles which they manage to imbue with depth and believability, avoiding major maudlin pitfalls and cliches and sidestepping the roads to caricature.. Ball seems to have wanted to leave no stone unturned. Among the many topics that are given surface treatment during the evening are faith, sex, relationships, sex, child abuse, sex, self-respect, sex, fidelity, sexuality and, of course, sex. The script is full of sitcom situations which evoke much laughter and it is to the credit of the company and director Kevin Dreyer that these are played well and are less blatantly obvious than they could be. The setting by Inseung Park provides the right notes for this dissecting of the bridal traditions. My only objection: I have seen bridesmaids dresses and hats that make these look at least moderately wearable. They don’t seem to warrant all the complaining.
“5 Women Wearing the Same Dress” plays Thursday through Sunday. For reservations, see the SBCT website link listed here. Note: The script contains a generous helping of profanity. Those who are upset by this should be forewarned.