Received wisdom says that at a wedding, it is all about the bride – her big day. However in Alan Ball’s play, it is those who are on the ‘periphery’ who have their say, as well as insights into the bigger picture… Directed by Tom Hartill, Five Women Wearing The Same Dress is set in the small town of Knoxville, Tennessee. Taking place at Tracy Marlowe’s wedding reception in her family home, the audience is introduced to the bridesmaids via the younger sister’s bedroom.
Although she’s a member of the family, the religious convictions of cousin Frances (Emma Rendell) sets her apart from the ‘libertine’ ethos of the rest of the group. That’s not to say that she’s never tempted or doesn’t have any desires. Just that every suggestion they make is met with her ‘mantra’, which she uses as an excuse to not do anything she’s unsure of.
Of a similar age to Frances, but much more ‘wayward’ and ‘worldly’, Meredith (Lucinda Davidson) has always lived in her older sister’s shadow, who receives adulation from all quarters. Visibily the most tense post-wedding, Meredith would like nothing more than the events of the day to expose how farcical the present celebrations are. Luckily for her she has a ‘joint’ somewhere to help calm her nerves…
Former friends from school with Tracy, Georgeanne (Amy Whitrod Brown) is surprised by the invitation to be a bridesmaid. Yet of all the group, she is the one who has reason to not take apart – having a ‘history’ with the fiancé. This raises the question of why some women choose to go with the other’s wishes, rather than what’s in their own best interests.
If Georgeanne’s marriage has made her unsatisfied with her present circumstances, Trisha (Charlotte Hunter) has no intention of embarking on that ‘merry-go-round’ at all. Trisha has the distinction of being the ‘equal’ of Tracy and not in the least bit intimidated or envious of her. However, Trisha has a less than rosy opinion of her own love life – easy enough to find dates and have sex, but resigned to believing that she’ll never find anything of substance that will last the distance.
As someone who ‘bats for the other side’, Mindy (Lauren Santana) has the older women in town view her with suspicion and alarm. However, as the sister-in-law of Meredith and Tracy, Mindy has the unique position of observing what the others aren’t privy to. Unemcumbered by an interest in men, Mindy’s also able to see the ‘love lives’ and preoccupations of the other women from outside a heternormative perspective.
It’s interesting that Ball contrasts Mindy’s ‘rite of passage’ childhood anecdote with Meredith’s and how each views the other’s tale with revulsion. Both anecdotes involve grey areas, but in one particular case, today’s political climate dictates a very specific interpretation of events. In any case, the source of tension in both anecdotes is the acquiescence of the childhood selves versus what the older party ‘should’ have done.
Completing the cast, director Hartill also plays Tripp Davenport, an usher who has chemistry with Trisha. The only male seen in the show, this figure of ‘flesh and blood’ is directly and obliquely compared with the unseen Tommy Valentine – a barometer of the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ of men…
The cast play their respective parts with gusto and much of what is conveyed between the women isn’t through direct speech, but by what they don’t say, their body language and their facial expressions.
As a comedy, Five Women playfully teases the disparity between what is expected of women in terms of behaviour and desires, and what they expect of themselves. The play shows that the women don’t have to be simpatico to find common ground. Nor does their dating history or their past choices preclude them from supporting each other’s respective endeavours.
© Michael Davis 2019
Five Women Weaing The Same Dress runs at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre until 4th May (2.45/7.45pm).