The stage production of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is the story of five bridesmaids who find a common bond as they hide out from an over-the-top wedding. Decked out in putrid pastel dresses, these women may sound like the storyline of a generic chick flick, but the only frill audiences should see on stage will be made of taffeta.
Brandishing a dark sense of humor, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is a contemporary comedy drama that tests the limits with its topics. Director John O’ Connell, the new dean of IPFW’s college of visual and performing arts, says that the dramedy is centered on a predominantly female cast.
One of our missions is to have a season that thrills the general public, which is only second to serving our students, O’Connell says. We do musicals, we do Shakespeare, we do big farces, but to do a realistic contemporary drama – we don’t do them very often. It can be very taxing for our students.
Set in a lush mansion in Knoxville, Tenn., the five lead characters are seemingly different women that learn over the afternoon that they share a common thread of relationship issues and secrets.
Tracy, the bridezilla, is never seen on stage, but her bridesmaids include Meredith, the bride’s sarcastic and rebellious younger sister and Georgeanne, whose failed marriage triggers some shocking behavior. The cast also includes Trisha, a beauty who has been jaded by men; Frances, a sheltered, religious cousin; and Mindy, the groom’s sister who happens to be a lesbian. Tripp, a bad boy wedding usher, is the only male character in the show.
Packed with irreverent humor, the production ultimately becomes a celebration of the women’s spirit.
There’s a lot of very adult content. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress’ is going to be fun, but let me warn you that it gets into some serious subject matters that are pretty heavy, O’Connell says. Some people will find it offensive – some parts I find offensive, but I know that it’s the characters, not my actors.
The show’s playwright, Alan Ball, is the creator behind the film American Beauty and the HBO TV series Six Feet Under and True Blood. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is an earlier piece, which had a 1993 off-Broadway debut in New York. O’Connell says that he was actually involved with developing the original show.
It’s about friendship and how it changes over the years. It’s sort of like when you get back together with friends and it’s just like old times. There are some issues about the struggle between men and women at different degrees, from going on a date to a bad marriage to regrets. One of the lead characters never wants to get married and never wants to make a commitment, he says. A lot of it has to do with issues that are pretty female-focused to a certain extent. It’s pretty controversial for Indiana because some of the opinions and behaviors they engage in on our stage.
Halee Bandt, who plays the fiercely independent Trisha, says that after reading through the script once, she initially decided to sit out of auditions.
At first, it turned me off a little bit, she says. I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with these topics in a comedic way. It came to the day of the auditions and I reread the play again, and at the last minute, I felt like it would make me grow as an actress.
John O’Connell says that as a director and dean of the school, it’s important to challenge students to grow as artists and expand their repertoire. He says the biggest challenge has been keeping the actresses honest in their portrayal of these women and their stories.
If you’re going to work in American theater you can’t pass judgment on the characters, he says. You think people are going to turn down the role of Lady Macbeth because she is a conniving murderer?
Unlike musicals that can dazzle audiences with scene changes and song numbers, O’Connell says this sort of show, which is based in one setting, pushes the characters into the limelight.
The style has been the biggest challenge. You have to be honest to the characters. There’s no hiding behind the song you’re going to sing or the heightened comedy of farce, he says. There’s no hiding.
Bandt says that preparing for the show has been one of her most positive rehearsal processes. As an actress, she says that her role has allowed her to break out of what she is used to.
Usually cast as a rough and tough character or the gentle ingénue, she says that playing Trisha allows her to play a character who is more of a combination of the two.
Over the weeks, she has formed a stronger connection with her cast and with the script.
I just failed to see the heart of it. It seemed a little too flippant. Now that I’m going through the process, I see the heart of the show, she says. Every one needs to realize that these are very real people dealing with very real issues. Alan Ball doesn’t sugar coat it. He gives it to you like it is. If you can look past that, you find that there is something very real and very human about this show.