Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is a comedy by Alan Ball, the entire action of which takes place in a single bedroom as five bridesmaids seek refuge from a wedding reception going on downstairs. Co-directed by Catherine Dimitroff and Lara Marks, this production was a heart-warming and sensitive rendition of the text, managing to be thought-provoking while providing lots of laughs.
The Pilch was the perfect venue, the space transformed by set designer Mira Liu into a homely but almost claustrophobic bedroom. This was excellently done, with the traditional plush, patterned décor of old southern money competing for space with the forcefully different aesthetic of Meredith, the youngest bridesmaid and the bride’s sister. Thus, her character was cleverly introduced before she even entered the room, making for an even more amusing beginning when it wasn’t tough-goth Meredith (Lucy McIlgorn) who entered but her naïve and very Christian cousin Frances (Nicole Jacobus).
Jacobus is excellent as the gentle and continually shocked Frances, her comic timing always on point and her expressions consistently in character. She manages to avoid the caricature that Ball’s script leans towards, instead making Frances sympathetic and believable. Likewise, McIlgorn excellently balances her outward character with the vulnerability underneath. Every bridesmaid, in fact, had a clearly established identity, and I enjoyed the clever reflection of this in their costume. While they are all in the ‘same dress’ of the title – a hideously brilliant find by costume designer Marisa Crane – each bridesmaid has little representative adaptations to the outfit.
The best moments of the production came when all or most of the bridesmaids were in the room, with the dialogue flowing brilliantly and the actors bouncing off each other in an incredibly realistic manner. The exchanges between Lara Marks as Trisha, Phoebe Mallinson as Georgeanne and Lucia Proctor-Bonbright as Mindy were especially amusing. In these scenes the set proved not only aesthetically pleasing but functional, enabling us to see all the changing facial expressions, and allowing the actors space to move freely as the direction of the dialogue shifted.
Unfortunately, there were a few instances where the script slightly let the cast down. Several serious issues seem to have been thrown in by Ball as a casual touch of character background, when really they are points with huge consequence that require far more thoughtful development. While this is a fault of the script, the direction could have gone further to work through this. Ball also seems to feel the need to periodically remind us of his progressive ideals and self-awareness. “I swear to God,” comments Mindy, “…sometimes, I just can’t believe how fucking…how incredibly fucked up men are.” These sorts of lines fell a little clumsily, the telling-not-showing method being far less effective than conversations in earlier scenes, which make the social comment clear in a far more subtle and moving way. The script’s least captivating moment comes when Ball decides to introduce a male love interest into the previously all-female, refuge-like space of Meredith’s bedroom. This feels unnecessary, and although Marks and Hasan Al-Habib as Trisha and Tripp handled it admirably, the dialogue came across long-winded and repetitive, its point unclear.
All this being said, the issues are with the script, not the production, which remains extremely enjoyable – especially in its fast-paced first half. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is definitely worth a watch.