Did you like True Blood? Remember Six Feet Under, that HBO show about a funeral home? Well the creator of those shows wrote a play in the early nineties and Champaign-Urbana’s youngest theatre company, Twin City Squared, has opened their production of it. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is written by Alan Ball and directed by Monica Samii. The show’s title gives a pretty big hint about what this play entails: five bridesmaids try to escape usual dreaded wedding traditions by hiding to a room in the bride’s house. Within the four walls of the bedroom, comedy, drama, and some semblance of story ensue.
Some people may instantly label this play as the theatre equivalent of a chick flick. They aren’t entirely wrong. It covers subjects of particular interest to women and the most action-oriented moment can be summarized as “stormed off, stage left.” This play offers little in the way of plot. On rotation, the characters offer pleasantries, a few jokes, a shocking revelation, a few more jokes, and the cycle repeats. As the play progresses, it introduces new characters to add layers of complication to the plot. That said, audience members will find some connection to this play — its cast of characters will make certain of that. With that cast of characters comes a warning to not bring the kids. There is some very adult content discussed with very adult language.
The entire play takes place in a bedroom at the bride’s family home. The setting is familiar to many people who find themselves in their teenage bedroom for the first time in a while: dated furniture that looks like you didn’t pick it, an old Malcolm X poster hanging on the door, and piles of CDs on top of a changer. The design came from the director, Monica Samii, and the Properties Designer and Set Decorator, Cindy Havice. The technicalities of this show were minimal, but of high quality. Clear artistic direction and attention to set detail were noticeably positive attributes of this show.
The play opens on Frances, played by Kayleigh Doyle, poking around a bedroom before the owner Meredith, played by Kalen Benbow, barges in frantically looking for a joint she’d hidden away. Benbow used this scene to show off her ability to convey a character. She encapsulates her character’s rebellious attitude, with snappy comebacks biting on the end of Frances’ innocent sounding lines. Perhaps more than her words, Benbow’s mannerisms – a head flip, a smirk after a comeback, and the stomping she uses to cross the stage – put forth a performance that exudes the brash confidence that makes her character real.
While nuptial comedy is the hook, the meat of the show is the personal tragedy, drama, and controversy. Set in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1993, there were a lot of topics worth exploring. One of the most well-performed moments in the show featured Trisha and Georgeanne, alone in upstairs bedroom. While discussing exes, Georgeanne asks Trisha if she’d ever had an AIDS test. Quietly, Trisha said that after an ex-boyfriend died of AIDS, she felt it was responsible thing to do. Georgeanne said “I’ve never met anyone to actually have it.” In a response that revealed Gailey’s acting prowess, she muttered “You will,” with a gravity that made a few audience members release an audible gasp.
It’s the moments like these which reveal both this play’s best and worst aspects. The script is weak, using archetypical characters to bring attention to a social issue and then move on from it as quickly as it introduces them. The play goes from a discussion of family drama to marital infidelity to AIDS to the bride’s personality to homosexuality to religous conservatism to sexual assault before concluding with nearly doing cocaine on stage — with transitions between topics almost always relying on a new bridesmaid bursting into the room, screaming. Twin City Squared saves this script with top-notch acting from the entire cast. Gailey and Benbow, who play Trisha and Meredith, should be particularly lauded. Both women displayed significant control of the craft due to their roles having the most demanding and quick emotional transitions of the show.
While this show has issues — mostly tied to its script — the play is worth a trip to Parkland’s Second Stage, if you have the time. The cast is full of strong actors and the company certainly matches its professional status with professional quality in terms of sheer production value.
Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is being shown at the black-box style Second Stage Theatre at Parkland College, although it is produced by Twin City Squared. It will run for two weekends, with a final show on Sunday, July 31st. Showtimes are at 7 p.m., except for Sundays which feature a 2 p.m. matinee. Tickets are $15 with available discounts for students and seniors. See complete pricing and schedule details, and order tickets online.
All photographs by Scott Wells…
Scott is a U.S. Navy veteran and a graduate of the University of Illinois. He has been a photographer and writer for Smile Politely since March of 2015.
Andrew Adams is a recently christened adult, with a penchant towards the blending of arts, sciences, and plant-derived stimulants mixed with milk and a shot of Hazlenut. He can be reached by email and on Twitter – fair warning: that account is known for politics and snark.