Theater Review: “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” at the Dominion Stage

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From left to right: Gabby Carter, Melanie Kurstin, Rebecca Cooley and Brittany Washington. Photo by Matthew Randall.

It was the show I didn’t think I needed on a Friday night after a long week at work. Dominion Stage welcomes theatergoers back with a delightfully fun production of “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress”. The fun starts with the dresses and continues from there. In her notes on the play on the program, director Danielle Guy points out that this play “is way too much” – the dresses and the amount of material that is packed into just 70 pages.

Come see this show for the really funny storyline and stay for the wonderful acting and story arc.

I see his point. Because of the number of topics covered – child abuse, drug addiction, classism, sexism, loneliness, evangelism, homophobia, fear, installation, trust and many more – this could be considered too much. But in the context of the reception at a wedding, it actually seems fitting that so many topics are brought up by a group of five bridesmaids in a seemingly straightforward way. This is the start of recognition and healing, and how often does it really happen in elliptical moments in real life? A lot. Real life is not direct dialogue and this piece captures that extremely well.

How often are women over-considered? So often, according to playwright Alan Ball, let’s celebrate the fact that women are actually human beings, complicated and just plain too much.

Besides, it’s really funny. Funny snort-laugh. Suddenly cry of funny laughter. The hand slapped on the funny mouth. Although, to be honest, I kind of regret the fact that I never met a bridesmaids like this when I was a bridesmaid. It doesn’t seem fair.

These bridesmaids are a hot mess. Frances (Rebecca Cooley) is an evangelical Christian, still a virgin, painfully naive, critical, but yearning for more even though she doesn’t really know that “more” is. She’s also a cousin of the bride and doesn’t go to town too often, it seems (Knoxvile). Meredith (Gwyneth Sholar) is the sister of the bride – somewhat distant, goal-chasing with her English degree, and damaged by an incident when she was 12 that she barely begins to realize that this wasn’t the great romance she made it into to survive. Trisha (Brittany Washington) is the friend we all want: strong, confident, hysterically funny, generous and in her own way, very private. It is only towards the end that we see that she is facing some serious trust issues and is ready to take a few steps towards a real relationship. Georgeanne (Melanie Kurstin) suffers from a bad marriage and imagines herself in love with the town idol. She also drinks too much, so some of her choices seem questionable, but these women won’t judge (with the exception of Frances) and they kiss her. She’s also the high school bride’s self-proclaimed ‘ugly sidekick’, though by the time of the wedding they are also somewhat distant. Mindy (Gabby Carter) is the groom’s sister – a lesbian, also hysterically funny (Carter has a dry childbirth and a phone call and I’ve thought of Carol Burnett a few times), and is probably the most together character.

The last character is Tripp (Cameron Powell). He’s up to Trisha with the banter and repartee, but he wants more. He wants this real relationship. Tripp doesn’t appear for the last 15 minutes or so, which is good. This show is about women and even when it comes to the odious Tommy Valentine, it’s the reactions of women to him that matters. Powell handles the role with a skillful and light touch.

One great thing Alan Ball has done is never to show the character behind a lot of those close crises (and aren’t weddings all about those crises so often?) – Tommy Valentine. He’s a bond between all of these women, including the never-seen bride, Tracey, as he’s either slept with them or punched with them. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in Knoxville that he hasn’t slept with, except possibly one of the wedding guests he eventually leaves with (she wears a blue linen backless dress marine and this is an important point in the show). The other invisible character is the groom, Scott McClure. It is beautiful, rich and perfect for the fabulous Tracey. Only it turns out that Tracey doesn’t have any friends, which is why these women were asked to be bridesmaids.

Cooley, Sholar, Washington, Kurstin and Carter are wonderful. From the first entry of Frances, stunned with utter joy at witnessing a sacred rite (her words), to the last group photo of this little Pepto-Bismol-pink fraternity group (with the big bow, breathtakingly ugly high heels and a hat that resembles the rings of a garish Saturn paired with a donut-shaped pillow). These ladies offer us full-fledged characters that seem real. We care about what will happen to them in the future.

In the hands of director Danielle Guy, the show seems quiet but time flies. The set design, also by Guy, looks a bit underwhelming, although the pink theme is present throughout the action as the action takes place in Meredith’s childhood bedroom (this is the South , after all). It was hard to tell if the bed was just a daybed hidden by stuffed animals and pillows or just a really short bed, but a real bed (and the scene had room) would have looked more realistic. Charles Dragonette dresser and property designer Amber Kilpatrick fill the room with stuffed animals, pillows, strips of fabric, a girly comforter, a rather cool bench in front of the window draped in roses, and a beaded bedroom door that is too high. the frilly top and too much. It’s perfect. This highlights Meredith’s growing claustrophobia and dissatisfaction with her life and past.

The costume design is by Anna Marquardt, and she did a perfect job creating the bridesmaids’ dresses that will indeed make the bride look healthy and ravishing in comparison (unless she has a of those hats in white with a veil – I’d love to know). The hair and makeup design is by Maurissa Weiner who took on the challenge of creating hairstyles that could tolerate these hats.

Co-lighting designers Kimberly Crago and Jeff Auerbach use the changing light of an afternoon reception to highlight the time that passes from the after-wedding to the honeymoon getaway. Sound design is by Christopher Beatley.

Come see this show for the really funny storyline and stay for the wonderful acting and story arc. This is a production that offers a respite from the ongoing drama of reality and unabashedly celebrates when women are just too much. It’s a nice way to start the weekend.

Duration: Approximately one hour and 55 minutes, including intermission.

Show Reviews: Alcohol and Drug Use, Adult Language, Child Sexual Abuse Discussion, and candid discussion of sex.

“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” runs through November 20, 2021 at the Dominion Stage at Gunston Theater Two, 2700 S Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and more information, please click here.

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