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Bridesmaids' banter

In Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  November 19, 2008

ALL TOGETHER NOW The ladies pose for an in-play photo.

Nothing like nuptials to rile up what lies beneath. At this upper-crust Tennessee wedding, we never see the bride, but her quintet of reluctant bridesmaids gets down to some deep and dirty truths in the sassy, irreverent Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, an early comedy by Alan Ball (who went on to win awards for the screenplay of American Beauty and the creation of Six Feet Under). The Portland Players production, sharply directed by Linda Sturdivant, is at once effervescent, soul-searching, and raucous, like the effects of a champagne cocktail dosed with a couple shots of vodka.

Alcohol, along with other controlled substances, does indeed play a major supporting role in the proceedings. Tracy's wedding is an old-money Southern affair with all the open-bar trimmings, but her five bridesmaids would much rather do their drinking holed up in the spacious bedroom of her rebel kid sister, Meredith (Hannah Brown). Truth be told, none of these young women are all that tight with the bride. Neither of Tracy's two high school pals are close with her anymore — not the promiscuous, jaded, still-single Trisha (Stephanie Atkinson) or the "ugly friend" Georgeanne (the Phoenix's own Deirdre Fulton), who's married but bored with her "piece of wet toast." The groom's sister Mindy (Crys Worden), an awkward joker and out lesbian, openly rues the fate of her brother, and sweet fundamentalist Frances (Sara Harvey), a cousin, seems too young and God-goggled to see very deeply into anyone. As for Meredith, she is actively, sassily hostile toward her sister, her sister's dud marriage, and the ridiculous hats and dresses (baby blue satin with rosebuds at the busts, the design of Barbara Kelly) these five women have been forced into for this one long day.

As the bridesmaids hide out in Meredith's bedroom (the gracious columned set, designed by Jeff Fleming, bespeaks understated Southern wealth), they swill, gossip, pass joints and judgments, get makeovers, and soon develop one hell of a rapport. Ball's dialogue is quick, colorful, and wicked (prudes should probably stay home), and this cast nails it with the tart spirit of Golden Age screen actresses. Harvey's devout and syrupy Frances treads a convincing line between supercilious and endearing, and Worden's crooked grin and gait, as Mindy, give a great wise-ass edge to her softer sensibilities. As the only married woman among them, Fulton gives Georgeanne a zany, sing-song refrain of self-deprecation, her tone a delightfully high-pitched mix of desperation and jubilation. The jaded Trisha is in some ways the warmest and wisest of the women, though Atkinson tempers this beautifully with her Jezebel delivery and Katharine Hepburn-esque zingers (particularly as she spars with the play's one male, Tripp, an equal match in the hands of winsome Matt Delamater). Finally, the volatile Meredith is a wild force in the hands of Brown: willful, gamine, infuriating, and sympathetic nonetheless.

Intelligent and feisty, all five actors inhabit characters that are both oversized and nuanced: They're equally convincing at sharking guys ("He has that look like you're both at a really boring party, and he's the only one with drugs," goes one tempting endorsement) and at delving into their darker places.

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Related: Review: La Cage aux Folles, Mixin' it up, Into new worlds, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Weddings, Katharine Hepburn, Alan Ball,  More more >
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