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Incline’s “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” Features Strong Performances

Review by Doug Iden of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress: Incline Theatre

Ever been asked to be a bridesmaid for someone you barely know and don’t like, amidst people you despise while forced to wear an outlandish dress that makes you look like a ghoulish Disney Cinderella parody?  This is the premise of Alan Ball’s comedy Five Women Wearing the Same Dress which opened at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater last night.

The entire play takes place in the bedroom of the bride’s younger sister Meredith, a spoiled, bratty malcontent played deliciously by Audrey MacNeil.  Meredith tries to escape the wedding reception festivities in her self-anointed oasis but is soon joined by the other four bridesmaids who proceed to tell their respective stories.  All of the bridesmaids had been friends in the past but lost contact over the years.  Their nervous and clumsy reunion is a principal plot-point.

First, we meet Frances (Brianna Bernard), the youngest of the group, who is a professed evangelical Christian, appalled by the drinking, cavorting and drugs she encounters with the other bridesmaids.  She is hiding from a world she perceives as evil and out-of-control but is privately being seduced by the freedom it represents. Bernard’s performance is one of the best as she moves from a shy, naïve “child” to a more accepting adult.

Next, we have Georgeanne (Erin Carr) who is still obsessed with an old boyfriend who got her pregnant which led to an abortion years earlier.  Carr cries and stomps around the stage but it’s hard to believe her character would be so blinded by the past boyfriend, especially when we learn that he is a serial womanizer and has sexually abused one of the other bridesmaids as a young teenager.

Trisha (Talia Zoll) is the self-professed liberated female who brags about her hundreds of liaisons and conquests–but is she as wild and shallow as she appears?  Trisha is the centerpiece of the show as we see her transition from avowed man-hater with an acerbic sense of humor into a potential long-term relationship with Tripp (Matt Krieg), the only man in the show.

The last bridesmaid is lesbian Mindy (Merritt Beischel) who feels like an outsider with a cynical outlook and caustic viewpoint.  Beischel plays Mindy as brittle loner who has a carefully crafted shield against a critical and unaccepting society.

Veteran director Dee Anne Bryll moves the play along well and brings out the best of the actor’s performances.

Although I enjoyed the production and the performances I found the narrative arc of the play problematic. Normally, one expects a plot where characters transform, mature, or learn from the past, but few of the characters change much in the play. They do start as estranged and become friends in the end but few of the characters, individually, grow or develop very much.  The characters start out as self-indulgent and pampered people with few redeeming qualities and, mostly, end up the same way. In addition, despite being written by a man, the play is very disparaging of men, perhaps to an uncomfortably exaggerated degree.

Brett Bowling’s set of Meredith’s bedroom is interesting as we see her character displayed on the wall with an interesting juxtaposition of a portrait of Malcom X and the iconic “love” statue on opposite walls.  The bedroom is chaotic and messy, just like Meredith.

Normally, the role of costume designer is to represent the character or a time/societal position and/or make the actors look good. I would imagine that Costume Designer Caren Brady relished the possibility of making these characters seem outrageous with dresses self-described as “hideous”, etc.  As the play title implies, the five bridesmaids wear the same dress which is a cruel joke perpetuated by the bride. The purple dress is enhanced by a pink, apron which resembles a curtain valance with a ridiculous hat that looks like a lamp shade.   The ludicrous costumes ironically clash with the serious themes of the play.

Be advised, this is an adult-themed play with adult language and strong themes of sex, obsession, abuse, alcoholism, and drug use.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress continues at the Incline Theater through February 11.  The next show is Monty Python’s Spamalot.