To be frank, William Peace Theatre’s current collegiate production of Alan Ball’s Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, directed by William Peace University Assistant Professor of Theatre/Musical Theatre Amy White, is not among WPT’s best offerings. That said, however, this production is not without its bright spots (to be addressed later).
Part of the weakness is in the script itself. It’s a slice-of-life play; and while the slice that we are served offers some tasty morsels, the play fails to offer much of an actual sustained plot. Furthermore, by the time the conflict was coming to resolution, we found that we had to remind ourselves exactly what this conflict was. And we have to confess that we had not found ourselves sufficiently invested in the characters (or the situation) to really care whether or not it was resolved.
So, what is the play about? There has been a wedding, and the five bridesmaids retreat to the bride’s sister’s upstairs bedroom to take a break from the reception downstairs. These women are an interesting cross-section — we have Meredith (the bride’s hard-core, rebellious younger sister), Mindy (the groom’s lesbian sister), Frances (the naïve “I’m a Christian” cousin), and Georgeanne and Tricia (two friends from the bride’s past with two quite different personalities). These five drift in and out of the room, usually interacting in twos or threes. As they interact, we learn about their trials and tribulations. Indeed, each eventually bares at least part of her soul to the others as we look on.
Visually, all is well. The set, designed by Jeannine Borzello and built by David Banko and Paul Beahm is an accurate representation of a bedroom in an upper-middleclass home; and it is decked out in a fashion expected of a headstrong just-out-of-college woman of the 1990s or so. The picture is topped off with a poster of Malcolm X, a touchtone landline phone, and a boom box.
More on the visuals: although the program does not credit a costume designer, we feel compelled to tip-the-hat to whoever came up with these five typically-godawful bridesmaid dresses. The women might not be “pretty in pink,” but they are dressed in identical pink nightmare-prom-dresses, complete with lampshade hats. In addition, there are some glimpses and references to undergarments that are quite character-specific. For a bit of variety, Meredith removes her dress for a sequence (possibly in a riff on the British-farce tradition of having one woman spend time in her underwear). Let’s just say that although there is nothing erotic about the t-shirt and boxers that she wears, the ensemble is definitely character-appropriate, as is the black leather jacket that she wears over the dress when we first meet her.
Sound and lighting, designed by Stevan Dupor, contribute nicely. However, we do have a bone to pick concerning the boom box sequence (see below).
The major flaw in this production is line delivery. We missed well over one-third of the dialogue, either because the lines were delivered faster than we were able to listen or because the volume was simply too low. In addition, a few of the characters spoke in near-monotones, offering none of the peaks and valleys of normal expressive speech. Furthermore, the lines that were delivered in “shrieks” were totally unintelligible. And, in the sequence in which Meredith plays music on the boom box, we were unable to hear any of the dialogue.
- Tiffany Lewis (as Meredith) could not have been better cast. Her braids, her defiant body language, and her tone(s) of voice (yes, we could hear her most of the time) were spot-on.
- Cat Hewett (as Frances) has a prize-winning delivery of the line “I’m a Christian.” It’s a combination of tone-of-voice, subtle shift in posture, and facial expression; and it’s a crowdpleaser. Thankfully, we were able to hear fine each time that she delivered this line. To playwright Alan Ball’s credit, the line pops up in the script just the right number of times — one more would be over-kill, and one less would deprive the audience of the satisfaction of anticipating it.
- The “group photo” sequence.
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
- The characters do not make enough use of ashtrays during the smoking sequences. (Of course, now that fewer people smoke, it is harder to keep up with the realities of smoking. So, this is understandable but not excusable.)
- The crying sequences were not believable. We would like to suggest that, if actors are not able to make their characters actually cry, they should consider choosing a different strategy for their character to express the emotion.
- When multiple characters look out an upstage window at an event outside, they should agree on exactly where this event is taking place and then position themselves and direct their gazes accordingly.
- We found ourselves wondering: if two of these bridesmaids are going to great lengths to improve their looks before going back downstairs, wouldn’t the one with the severely smeared makeup do something to try to fix her face, too?
For the most part, this is a young and inexperienced group of actors. We feel that they will learn and grow, and we look forward to seeing more of their work in the future.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 14th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Sara Pequeño: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2018/02/five-women-0214.
William Peace Theatre presents FIVE WOMEN WEARING THE SAME DRESS at 2 p.m. Feb. 18 in the Leggett Theatre on the second floor of Main Building at William Peace University, 15 E. Peace St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $15 (Free for WPU theater students, $5 other students, and $10 seniors and WPU faculty, staff, and alumni).
BOX OFFICE: 919-508-2051, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://wputheatre.ticketleap.com/5-women-same-dress/.
PRESENTER: https://www.peace.edu/about/william-peace-theatre-2/ and https://www.facebook.com/williampeacetheatre.
2017-18 SEASON: https://www.peace.edu/news/wputheatre-preview-companys-2017-18-season/.
Five Women Wearing the Same Dress (1993 Off-Broadway comedy): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=862 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/1025 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Women_Wearing_the_Same_Dress (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://hwcollege.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/five-women-study-guide.pdf (Harold Washington College Department of English, Speech, and Theatre).
Alan Ball (Marietta, GA-born Los Angeles, CA playwright and screenwriter): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/8578 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0050332/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Ball_(screenwriter) (Wikipedia).
Amy White (Raleigh, NC director and Assistant Professor of Theatre/Musical Theatre at William Peace University): https://www.peace.edu/profiles/amy-white/ (William Peace University bio) and https://www.facebook.com/amy.white.927758 (Facebook page).
A native of North Carolina, Yvette L. Holder has studied theater at three institutions: the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute (New York), and N.C. Central University, where she received a BA in Dramatic Arts. Yvette also promotes and produces comedy theater, as well as working with playwrights around the country during the development stage of their work. She hosts a monthly play reading session: “Sips and Scripts” at Imurj in downtown Raleigh. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read Yvette and Kurt’s reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.