The five women of “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress”, now playing at the Meta Theatre on Melrose Avenue, deal with an age-old bachelorette question: how did a woman they barely like get them to wear a dress they truly hate?
If you’re going to give a dress such a prominent place in the title, the dress itself better be really awful, and this one is: a taffeta bustier atop a skirt of cascading chiffon waves with an inexplicable tulle shoulder covering, all in the violet hue of Riptide Rush Gatorade. The whole thing is topped with a matching purple fascinator that even Kate Middleton could not pull off. There is something that happens when you put on a dress like that, some serious soul searching that must occur. Who am I? And how did I end up in this horrible dress?
The five women work this out with each other in ways both hilarious and touching while seeking refuge in the bride’s former bedroom. Through the comfort of female companionship, champagne and marijuana, the actresses deftly explore their relationships to the bride and the various men in their lives (even if they just met them at the reception).
While we will never see the bride, we get a sense of her through the oppressive girliness of the room – the floral quilt, the damask wallpaper, the embroidered ottoman. In this den of femininity, the other women stand out in opposition. The bride’s sister and current inhabitant of the bedroom, Meredith (Mamie Wilhelm) is rebellious and surly. The bride has also brought back two old, but different friends: the promiscuous and self-assured Trisha (Julianne Dowler) and the unhappily married and former “ugly sidekick” of Tracy, Georgeanne (Collette Rutherford). On the outskirts of the group are the jovial lesbian sister of the groom, Mindy (Robyn Okrant) and a hyper Christian cousin, Frances (Gail Friedland), essentially brought in as a ringer.
The chemistry and nimble dialogue between the women keeps the show moving at a brisk pace even though most of the drama has occurred years before and with characters we’ll never meet. The actresses navigate meandering, friendly banter as it turns into confessions of long-buried secrets with ease. They make the show’s sudden changes in tone appear natural when they could easily feel forced.
The show shines during its comic moments, like when Dowler offers a rousing argument for men’s wingtip shoes, or Okrant sinks her teeth into the Miss America Pageant. Okrant brings enormous energy to the role of Mindy. In a play where most of the action has to involve women moving from one seated position to another, her physical comedy is welcome.
It is notable that men, the most common topic of conversation, remain off-screen for almost the whole show. No one is talked about more than the bride’s ex-fiance, Tommy Valentine, who somehow still got invited to the wedding. Nearly every woman in the room has interacted with him in some way, although he eventually gets distracted by a woman in a revealing blue dress. His presence brings up long-buried scars and longings within some of the women, and the exposed dark side of his playboy nature ultimately brings the group closer together. When we finally meet a male character, his mere presence in the room proves his worth. The women let him in, so he must be one of the good ones.
The play doesn’t promise closure for any of the characters. The show is not about using the wedding to forge past some unresolved conflict, or reach a new chapter in anyone’s life. Rather it dwells on how to rely on the power of female friendship, and occasional male companionship, to get through the rough patches.
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