Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
RHCR Theatre — through Feb. 22
“It’s too clean,” I proclaimed, eyeballing the stage set for Alan Ball’s best-known play a few minutes before the top of the show. “If Meredith doesn’t waltz onto that bedroom and immediately mess it up, I’m gonna riot.”
You see, as is often the case with me, I’ve been in Five Women Wearing the Same Dress before. Naturally, I have opinions. It can absolutely ruin shows that are done poorly. But, when a show is done well, that connection makes you appreciate it so much more.
Under the direction of Traci Rezabek, this show definitely falls into the latter category. Full disclosure, I don’t love the script of this play. Alan Ball is not my favorite playwright and I don’t typically enjoy the female characters he writes.
This script in particular takes almost all the drama off-stage and lets you hear about it though the lens of the increasingly inebriated bridesmaids at the homestead wedding of a well-to-do southern debutante. None of the bridesmaids particularly like the bride, not even her younger sister, whose bedroom the maids continuously escape to.
If there Bechdel test were a superhero, this script would be its arch-nemesis.
As a result, successful performances of it are heavily dependent on the women who inhabit the roles and the team in charge of putting it up.
And every person involved in this production really did the work.
Meg Norris was twitchy and conflicted as the innocent, slightly awkward Frances. Her warring desires — to be one of the cool kids and to maintain her shiny veneer of righteousness — played well against the other women’s casual, secular disregard. She has a tough job at the top of the show. The first scene happens in near silence, punctuated only by her furtive actions as she snoops around Meredith’s bedroom. While I felt that the scene could have used a bit of tightening, her earnest fear of being caught was both endearing and genuinely funny.
Carlee Glenn was bitter and antagonistic as Meredith. You could see the bright spots of her longing to join the festivities undercut by the reactionary vitriol of the young when sensitive topics spring up. Tasked with navigating some dark terrain in this play, her vulnerability is key. Glenn pushed away from that vulnerability as hard as she could without letting go of it, till her character’s climax where she simply collapsed into it, only to cast it off again in muddled defiance.
Jennifer Ford’s Trisha was dead-on, perfect casting. Sexy, smart, jaded — what more can you ask for from a woman dedicated to spending a full play convincing a cadre of bridesmaids that their personal happiness should always take priority over pleasing a man? Of course, Alan Ball does his best to muck that up by shoe-horning in a love story between her and a character who we never meet till the final scene of the play. Still, Ford gives these women a leader, a role model — and her energy infuses the stage.
Alexandra Olsen de Wallau knocks Georgeanne out of the park as well. Her chemistry with Trisha is so palpable I’d watch a buddy comedy starring the two of them. A character who married for money, cheats on her husband and once slept with her best friend’s fiancé is not likeable or relatable to me on paper. But Olsen de Wallau absolutely slays it. She’s so funny and so sweet, it’s disturbingly easy to forgive her foibles.
Janette Michael-Little is enchanting and occasionally laugh-out-loud hilarious as the groom’s sister, Mindy. With an elastic face reminiscent of Maya Rudolph and a delivery that ranges from bawdy and rough to delicate and dainty, Michael-Little’s Mindy defies categorization. But she feels real. And when her performative mask drops, it shatters.
Finally, Cody Johnson was charming as Tripp Davenport, which is about as high of praise as I can give him, given that the character and the scene contents have aged badly since 1993. Honestly this scene, through no fault of the actors or the production, is just the worst. The way it’s written smacks of a bygone era where women just had to fall in love or they couldn’t be in the story. I have never seen this scene and not been just generally offended as a female human. So, kudos for making it bearable.
In the end, the strength of the production here is the ensemble, the way they gelled. After two hours and an intermission, I would have gladly spent another hour with them. There were moments where they could have used some reigning in. The freight train of an emotional climax spiraled a bit too far for my tastes, given the secrecy they were supposed to be maintaining. But overall, it was a really well done play you should absolutely go check out. It was easily the best show I’ve seen at RHCR. Oh, and yes, that bedroom was a straight disaster by the end.
You still have two chances to see it, this Friday and Saturday, February 21 and 22, at 1200 2nd Ave SE. Tickets are $16-19.