by MATT REVILLE, for the Sun Gazette
Several months ago, Dominion Stage led the resurgence of indoor theater programming in Arlington. And now, the troupe is back with what might be the community’s first comedy staged for an audience since the onset of COVID.
And while it’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” may appeal to those who appreciate modern-day wordsmithing and the interplay between quirky, independent characters.
Set at a wedding reception at a Tennessee estate in the not-too-distant past, the tale revolves around five bridesmaids and their evolving reactions both to the immediate goings-on around them, and to how their pasts have shaped their present situations.
• Meredith (played by Gwyneth Sholar), the bride’s renegade younger sister who hides a secret.
• Georgeanne (Melanie Kurstin), whose own marriage is failing, leading to frequent outbursts.
• Frances (Rebecca Cooley), a sheltered fundamentalist on the hunt for lasting love.
• Trisha (Brittany Washington), the world-weary cynic of the group who seems to hold out one last hope that love might arrive at her doorstep – if she can stop pushing it away.
• Mindy (Gabby Carter), a wise-cracking “L” in the LGBTQ cornucopia who watches over it all.
That’s the cast, except for a late-in-the-show appearance by Cameron Powell as Tripp, a semi-bad-boy who spars with Trisha in an updated Bogie-and-Bacall interplay.
As penned by Alan Ball (who created “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood”), director Danielle Guy says the show aims to showcase women who go through life on their own terms.
“To live in the world as a woman is to constantly feel the pressure to minimize every aspect of ourselves in order to maintain the status quo and not make anyone feel uncomfortable,” she said. “We shrink our voices, our waistlines and our personalities because it is indoctrinated into us at an early age that’s what our responsibility is to society.”
The characters “are able to let themselves go and be as emotional, outspoken, messy and over-the-top as they want,” Guy said.
But is that raison d’etre enough to sustain a show that is being billed as a comedy? If so, it’s an acquired taste, and I had not yet acquired it by the time the two-act production has concluded its Saturday-night performance.
The problem seems to lie not with the performers or the director, but with the script itself, which seems forced and gives us no reason to root for any of the characters. (Aside: One of my great hates when it comes to theater is the acclaimed-by-many “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” which has the same structural problem – lots of angst, lots of foul language and lots of pathos, but not a single character I would mourn had they been hit by a bus in a plot twist during the second act.)
My reaction may be rooted in the fact that I have a “Y” chromosome – hidden from view though it sometimes is! – and may not therefore be as sympathetic to the challenges facing modern-day women. Fair enough. But my theater-going companion, most assuredly female, came away as befuddled as did I.
The performances were solid; each of the five actresses had, over the course of the show, a chance to take the spotlight and most made the best of it. Guy’s direction kept the pace moving, particularly in the first act, before various plot twists slowed proceedings in the second.
The technical efforts were strong, including lighting design (Kimberly Crago and Jeff Auerbach), sound (Christopher Beatley) and set design (Guy, with dressing by Charles Dragonette and properties by Amber Kilpatrick). Costume designer Anna Marquandt rose to the challenge of creative bridesmaids’ dresses that were sufficiently over-the-top to be entertaining but not distracting, while Maurissa Weiner (hair and makeup) also had a very strong outing.
My best guess is this show would most appeal to those who could easiest identify with the challenges brought to the fore through the five main characters. So while a miss for me, it might be worth the night out for others.
“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” runs through Nov. 20 with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. at Gunston Arts Center Theatre II, 2700 South Lang St. There are no vaccination requirements, but masks are required to be worn throughout the show. The Nov. 13 performance will feature American Sign Language interpretation.
For tickets and information, see the Website at www.dominionstage.org.