In Audrey Herman’s Spotlighters Theatre’s latest offering, Five Women Wearing The Same Dress, we are invited into the boudoir of a young Southern belle bridesmaid, along with four other cohorts, all five of them wearing the same dress in different colors. Writer Alan Ball, of American Beauty and Six Feet Under fame, penned the piece which premiered in 1993 and is set in the late 80s, and, while there are lots of funny one-liners, shows its age a bit around the edges. Nevertheless, this production presents like an extended episode of early 90s TV sitcoms, a genre of which I am particularly fond, so I can overlook the dated references and stereotypical attitudes on display and just enjoy the ride. Who didn’t love Designing Women, Steel Magnolias, and a host of other women-centric rom-coms and dramadies?
All five women take turns, either all together or in smaller groups, hiding from the wedding festivities, sharing their secrets and observations, memories, and missteps over the course of the next two hours. Director Hillary Mazer largely moves the action along well. I’m told she was a late addition to the production, and if there were deficiencies due to her joining a work in progress, they didn’t show.
Fuzz Roark’s lighting design did a great job illuminating the set and the action, and the collective effort by the bridesmaids (no costumer is listed) to dress themselves served very well. Although it is a little puzzling that the same dress in different colors was way more flattering than most billowy monstrosities that bridesmaids of the era in the south were forced into. Might have explained why they all complained about the dress so much had they been less appealing. I thought they were lovely on all five actresses.
Alan S. Zemla is a wizard with transforming the small stage at Spots into just about anything, using every inch of the theatre space that is not occupied by audience into the young, southern girl’s bedroom, complete with dressing area, ruffled bedclothes, and an elliptical machine I wouldn’t mind owning myself. Beautiful work as usual.
The bedroom belongs to Meredith, the younger sister of the bride. The other four maidens join her and the action, immediately following the wedding, revolves around the five of them revealing their most intimate secrets, longings, desires, fears and foibles, quite uncomfortably at times. Occasionally shocking. Frequently hilarious. But never boring. So let’s meet these ladies and get further into what worked beautifully and what weighed the piece down for me.
I mentioned Meredith, played by A.J. Ramsey, is the younger sister of the bride, living in her perfect sister’s shadow, with a shocking secret or two of her own. Foul mouthed, socially conscious (at least she seems to be, given the posters on the wall of Malcolm X and the 90s equivalent of Black Lives Matter material), she’s reminded at one point by one of the other bridesmaids, ‘you’re not exactly Queen Latifah, you know.’ Great line. A. J. Ramsey nailed the part with the bratty bravado of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood.
And Francis, the bible quoting, virginal innocent who explains her position on drinking, drugs, premarital sex and her aversion to coarse talk singularly as ‘I’m a Christian.’ It’s her excuse and her mantra. Brittany Martin is cast perfectly as the tightly wrapped-in-Christianity virgin. She’s the social conscious of the group. Ms. Martin can be surprisingly funny and touchingly vulnerable despite some of her lines crossing into religious camp.
Jennie Phelps is Tricia, the college roommate of the bride. With a world-weary air and a sardonically practical approach to men (she likes them), sex (she likes it), relationships (no need for them), and life in general, she is the most quietly self-realized actress of the group, a testament to her impressive acting chops. All the more so when someone challenges the character’s beliefs and she’s forced to fess up to the fact that she ain’t as tough as she thinks she is.
Mindy is the wise-cracking lesbian former Junior Leaguer with a down-to-earth take on the world of Southern pulchritude, a former Miss Something or Other Southern, who decided to come out and is unapologetic and forthright, and seems to enjoy her near total acceptance by her peers on the bridesmaid dais. I loved Samantha Murray in this part. Hilarious, with an infectious laugh, and comedic timing that recalls Hollywood in its heyday.
The remaining bridesmaid is Georgiana, a bundle of nerves and alcohol in a loveless marriage, struggling with her weight and her life choices and plenty of secrets, including a past full of regrets and unfulfilled dreams. Eleanora Hyde can dominate the stage with the best of them, and even when she’s sitting quietly, she’s still a strong presence.
As the lone male in the show, Mike Purnell is excellent. Good looking without being too over-the-top movie star fake, there is a boy next door smolder that is especially appealing. He has a believably sincere quality that had more than one audience member all aflutter.
Alan Ball is obviously an exceptionally talented writer, what with credits that have so far earned him an Oscar, two Emmys for directing and writing, and a slew of other awards. While this play was, for me, just a little shallow, even when the themes got unexpectedly heavy like child abuse and abortion, there was not a lot of gravitas. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I love a good Andy Griffith Show marathon. And I loved way more about this production than I was less impressed by. And every person on that stage deserves a rousing round of applause. As does Spotlighter’s, for bringing them to us. So go. Support local theatre. You’ll be better for it.
Five Women Wearing The Same Dress plays through June 12th, 2022 at Audrey Herman’s Spotlighter’s Theatre, 817 Saint Paul Street, Baltimore MD. Information at (410) 752-1225. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.