Alan Ball’s Five Women Wearing the Same Dress (playing at The Dupree Theatre in The Irving Arts Center) is a splendid, engaging, intriguing comedy. Like the best comedies, it emerges from an actual narrative, as opposed to hanging gags on a tenuous skeleton. You might recognize the writer’s name from his association with American Beauty and Six Feet Under. Mr. Ball is an iconoclast, cheerfully mixing cynicism with soft spot for frailty, and a lack of tolerance for pretentiousness. Five Women is set in the Knoxville, Tennessee, in the early 1990’s. The occasion is a wedding. The poster of Malcolm X hanging over Meredith’s bed (sister of the bride) sets the tone. The conversation takes place between five bridesmaids (Frances, Meredith, Tricia, Georgeann, and Mindy) none of whom, it seems, are especially close to the bride. Frances: frail, mousy, sweet, functions as defender of traditional morals (“I don’t drink, I’m a Christian.”) while Meredith leads the charge of transgression.
You wonder if Five Women was chosen for its timely consideration of paradigm shifts in America’s salient values. The women smoke pot, imbibe, discuss their sexual escapades, while Frances is definitely a buzzkill. Mindy is a lesbian. Meredith disparages the phoniness of the posh wedding, her sister, the ceremony, while Tricia questions the validity of marriage as an institution, and long term romantic relationships of any kind. The name of Johnny Valentine is brought up repeatedly, as the Pan-like dreamboat who’s bedded three of the women and flirted with all of them. What makes Five Women so enjoyable and effective is Alan Ball’s refusal to stoop to didacticism or pontificating. He avoids stereotypes and clichés. For all the “sinful”, indulgent behavior, none of the women seems particularly evil or noble, just normal and free to find their own path. Ball confides the underpinnings of their attitudes, and laces the story with enough pathos to make it genuine and resonant. His dialogue is so crisp and skillful that laughter is nearly a reflex.
The one male character, Tripp, is (more or less) brought in at the 11th Hour. He and Tricia debate the merits of strictly recreational sex. He explains his feelings run deeper than that, while she studiously avoids the hazard of playing along with what he needs her to be. The banter is bright, and impressively unexpected, though it feels like Tripp has been sent in to rescue Tricia from her (admittedly reasonable) skepticism with men. It feels a bit extraneous. That being said, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is a refreshing, engaging show. Under the direction of Dennis Canright, the ensemble (Tammy Partanen, Nicole Neely, Liz J. Millea, Mandy Rausch, Laura Saladino and Hayden Evans) is nimble, sharp-witted and energetic. It closes this weekend, so don’t miss your opportunity to catch this great production.
MainStage Irving-Las Colinas :presents: Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, playing January 20th-February 4th, 2017. Irving Arts Center, 3333 North MacArthur Blvd, Irving, Texas 75062. 972-252-2787. www.irvingtheatreorg.