Review: FIVE WOMEN WEARING THE SAME DRESS Shows the Evolving Female Role in Society

By: Jul. 22, 2014
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In some aspects of American culture, weddings are considered amongst the most stressful episodes a person can endure. Despite the happiness associated with the affair, weddings offer a minefield of potential familial discord, monetary pressure, and the inevitable anxiety people feel surrounding their personal connection to the milestone. In Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, director Kate Bergstrom, head of the drama department at Laguna Blanca School, has fun exhibiting the obligation of the modern bridesmaid as seen through the varying viewpoints of the five women in the bridal party. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress showcases opinions about the purpose and necessity of weddings and marriage that we've held onto juxtaposed against those ideas that are being abandoned as the role of the female in American society evolves. The five women may be wearing the same dress, but each one represents a distinctive version of femininity in relation to the ideas of family, love, and marriage.

The dramatic action begins when each bridesmaid, looking for escape from the demanding responsibilities of being a proper bridesmaid in a lavish, Knoxville wedding, finds respite in the bedroom of the bride's younger sister. This room becomes a safe haven where the bridesmaids can air their grievances. Like many bridal parties, this group consists of women from different periods in the bride's past-most know each other in a limited capacity from childhood, but the passage of time has made them no more than acquainted strangers. The conversations are comfortable and familiar, but the sense of excitement persists with the discovery of how each woman's life has changed since childhood.

Frances (Leah Victoria Bleich) is the naïve southern belle who could have been plucked from a 1948 debutante ball. She's a young cousin of the bride, surprised and pleased to be in the wedding party. Bleich plays Frances with the innocent pluck of a burgeoning woman who is committed to her fairytale ideal of weddings and romance; she's waiting for her gentleman prince, and politely refuses to be swayed in the face of the other bridesmaid's less optimistic approach to marriage. Mindy (Ashley Saress Lemmex) is the groom's lesbian sister who represents the disenfranchised sector of society that has been excluded from the experience (marriage equality did not exist in Tennessee when Alan Ball wrote the play in 1993, and still doesn't exist there almost a quarter-century later). Mindy is frank and un-invested--understandable after being informed that her long-term partner wasn't welcome at the "family-only" rehearsal dinner. Mindy is the voice that refuses to be marginalized in the face of prejudice, and refuses to buy into a societal milestone that doesn't accept her version of love. High School friend Georgeanne (Katelyn Tustin) is unhappily married, and college friend Trisha (Marisol Miller-Wave) simultaneously relishes and is disgusted by her consistent bachelorhood. Trisha is sassy and savvy-the coolest girl in the room; Georgeanne is a confident physical comedienne with exceptional comic timing, especially while maneuvering in her sizeable, powder-puff of a bridesmaid gown. Tustin manages to both flounce and flounder at once, the perfect effect for the disenchanted housewife who laments her inability to achieve romantic satisfaction (though she remains feebly hopeful). Meredith (Allison Lewis Towbes), the bride's sister, plays the emblematic little sister to all the girls; she has little experience in healthy, sustainable romance, but provides informative context about the bride and their family's dynamic. Bergstrom does an excellent job of supplying five representations of unique female worldviews, while still portraying each of these women as complex, realistic individuals.

The bridesmaid dresses were indeed horrible. Their girth provided enthusiastic comedic value: they knocked over furniture, got caught in hair, garments, and accessories, and prevented any sort of graceful movement. The filigreed headbands were the perfect accent piece, the feathered, lacey garnish on the wedding-cake dresses. The first act of the show was fast and witty, and the dialogue was thoroughly engaging. The pacing of the second act slowed due to some unexpected, heavy subject matter--it brought the ironic levity of a room full of discontent women to a place of sudden, unanticipated darkness. Later, the tension in the final scene between Trisha and her love interest, Tripp, was moving, but decelerated and slightly out of character. It seemed to belabor a deep discontent in Trisha that differed from the otherwise confident (though jaded) portrayal of her character that had been consistent to that point. It lacked the balance of the familiar sharp self-assurance against the tenderness and vulnerability of the scene that would have propelled the romantic arc to less ambiguous end.

All in all, the talented Kate Bergstrom created a very entertaining, very funny production about a widely relatable situation; everyone has been to a wedding where the bridesmaids are miserable and sloppy. It's the wedding itself that brings out festering feelings about love and marriage. Weddings are cultural markers that denote a certain set of values and expectations, and everyone has an opinion about the enduring importance of this particular cultural mainstay. Five Women is smart and enjoyable with a very likeable, talented cast. It represents women and their variant viewpoints in a respectful and honest way--the dresses may be identical, but the women are individuals. Five Women illustrates the evolving ideologies of a female culture still finding comfort in empowerment.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
Directed by Kate Bergstrom
July 18th-July 27th
Plaza Playhouse Theatre, Carpenteria


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