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Wedding belle blues
Bridesmaids endure a bad reception in IPFW’s Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
When it comes to her special day, every bride likes to feel that she is the specialest of them all. So maybe that’s why, when she selects a handful of sisters, relatives, and close friends to stand with her in front of the assembled guests and say her vows, she often chooses to drape them in some of the most hideous, tacky, and completely-useless-for-any-other-occasion dresses ever designed.
It’s like the bride is saying “I know you would never upstage me on my wedding day, but just to make sure no one forgets who the star of this show is, you’re going to be wearing one of these…”
Exaggerating? Propagating a stereotype? Yeah, we probably are… but as John O’Connell points out, there are plenty of women of a certain age who know exactly what you’re talking about. “Actually, I don’t think there aren’t a lot of women who do that to their friends anymore,” he laughs. “Usually, it’s like a cocktail dress or something these days.”
O’Connell is directing IPFW’s production of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, which begins its run on Friday, September 27. It’s about five young women, all bridesmaids, taking refuge in an upstairs bedroom from an overwrought wedding reception happening on the first floor. Some of the women know each other to an extent, but when we first meet them, they seem to have only three things in common: they are all wearing the same hideous dress; they all share some past with Tracy the bride downstairs; and none of them are really sure who their old friend Tracy is anymore. In fact, they don’t like her very much at all.
So they slip upstairs to get away from it all, hiding in Tracy’s former bedroom — now uneasily occupied by her younger sister Meredith — and they drink, and smoke pot, and talk.
Once again, those who have found themselves a member of many a bridal party might remember a wedding or two where they wished they could have done something similar. “You’d be surprised how many women just laugh at the idea when I describe the set-up to them,” says O’Connell, the Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. “They always say ‘That sounds hilarious,’ and it is pretty funny, but…”
But… Five Women Wearing the Same Dress was written by Alan Ball. It was first produced in 1993, four years before American Beauty and eight years before Six Feet Under. Anyone familiar with those works knows what O’Connell means by “funny, but…” The set-up lends itself to comedy. As we said, the women are decked out in hideous dresses. “They really are bad,” says Halee Bandt, who plays bridesmaid Trisha. They’re so poofy and… well, pretty much any stereotype you can think of as far as bridesmaids dress, that’s it.”
And they’re hiding in a bedroom that, in the words of one critic, “looks like Laura Ashley walked in and vomited all over the stage.” It also takes place in Knoxville, Tennessee, and though we don’t leave the bedroom where the bridesmaids have gathered, O’Connell feels the southern setting is important. On one hand, accents can sometimes be pretty funny. But on a more serious level… “(Alan) Ball grew up in the south, and I think there was a reason he specifically set the play there rather than just any place,” explains O’Connell. “These characters are all different, but they are also, to some extent, products of their environments.”
But against the hideous dresses, the awful décor, and the accents, the story deals with some pretty heavy adult issues, and uses some strong adult language to do so. “It’s not a farce,” says O’Connell. “It’s a contemporary, realistic play that’s comic.”
The bedroom belongs to Meredith Marlowe (played by Angela Flick), the bride's sarcastic pot-smoking sister. She’s recently moved in to her sister’s former bedroom, and her “tough chick” persona and fondness for Nine Inch Nails (the play takes place in 1993) are an awkward fit with the floral wall paper and frilly drapes her sister has left behind.
Joining her is Darby Mullen-LeClear as Georgeanne, who has a relationship with the bride as far back as middle school, when she played the part of “ugly sidekick.” Once upon a time, something ugly happened between Georgeanne and Tracy’s new husband Scott, and her relationship with the bride is strained.
Another of the bride’s friends, this one from her college years, is Trisha, played by Halee Bandt. “Back in college, Trisha was a partier and Tracy was her partner in crime,” Bandt says. “But it’s been about 10 years since they’ve been really close, and as they’ve grown up, they’ve grown apart.”
Rounding out the bride’s side is cousin Frances (played by Hanna Vandell), very religious, somewhat naïve, and equally uncomfortable with the party downstairs and the talk in Meredith’s bedroom.
Finally, representing the groom’s family in the bridal party is Mindy McClure (Carly Thompson), the groom’s lesbian sister. Tracy doesn’t like her much, and she likes Tracy even less — she had a close relationship with her brother, and Tracy has come between them.
The juxtaposition between the adult subject matter and the over-the-top setting and costumes can make Five Women Wearing the Same Dress a challenge for actors. The temptation can be to play towards caricature, something the cast has worked hard at avoiding.
And the characters themselves come with contradictions of their own. Halee Bandt, who has been in many local productions, says that early in rehearsals, it was a challenge getting a handle on her character Trisha. “She’s a very matter-of-fact, no-nonsense… well, ‘woman of the world’ is how I’ll phrase it,” laughs Bandt. “But while she can be blunt, and she has a promiscuous reputation, she’s also described as a naturally classy woman. Out of this group of women, she sort of takes on the ‘big sister’ role. She has experienced a lot of hurt, a lot of the things that life throws at you, and has a perspective that a lot of the younger women don’t have.”
Bandt says one of her favorite scenes happens towards the end, when the sole male we meet on stage — a groomsman named Tripp, played by Brock Graham (we never meet the bride or the groom) — comes looking for Trisha. “Trisha sees herself as someone who doesn’t ‘need’ a man, but she’s found a connection with Tripp that’s different from anything before. I like the scene between them because it gets Trisha out of her comfort zone.”
IPFW Department of Theatre presents Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
Fridays September 27 and October 4 at 8 PM
Saturdays September 28 and October 5 at 8 PM
Thursday February 23 at 8 PM
Sunday October 6 at 2 PM — sign language performance
2101 E Coliseum Blvd
$11 Groups of 10 or more
$ 5 IPFW students and students 18 and under
$10 Other “college” students with ID
Adult language and content. Children under 6 will not be admitted.
The IPFW Larson Ticket Office in the Athletic Center is open Monday – Friday from 12:30 – 6:30 pm. Patrons are encouraged to call in advance to reserve their tickets.
Box Office: 260-481-6555_TTD: 260-481-4105_
For more information call the IPFW Larson Ticket Office or visit ipfw.edu/theater