Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
But I need to add to that complimentary list a fourth more personal adjective: pathetic.
Five Women, written by Alan Ball (Oscar-winning writer of American Beauty) and directed by Frank Taylor Green, is about the encounter of five bridesmaids at a wedding reception in Knoxville, Tennessee. The five bridesmaids are not actually wearing the same dresses. Their costumes are different colors, but they are all the old flouncy, bouffant kind of awkward, full-skirted, shimmering dresses one might have commonly seen a half-century ago. Despite their atavistic appearance, these five white girls in their 20s and early 30s are a diverse lot, and not at all the dull, safe creatures their dresses and tiaras suggest.
To begin with, they all hate their costumes and wore them because the bride bought them and made them wear them. Otherwise, they are quite different from each other. The five include a lesbian, a former romantic ready to give up on marriage, a woman who at the age of 12 was seduced by her sister's fiancÚ, a woman who confesses to more than 100 lovers, and a devout Christian who repeatedly reminds her friends that her religion prevents her from smoking a joint or drinking a beer (although she does finally drink a glass of champagne) and cannot tolerate any criticism of biblical literalness. They smoke pot, discuss abortion and sexual abuse, and even ask a man what kind of condom he prefers.
The peeling away of the layers of what once would have been considered conventionality, however, exposes what has really become the new conventionality. It is remarkable how these white middle-class women, from a city whose image is that of a hillbilly community on the western approach to the Blue Ridge Mountains, resemble their overtly sophisticated sisters in, say, Manhattan.
Part of the intended message here may be how the experience of this generation transcends geography. It also, to my mind, transcends dignity and even tragedy. I found their narrow, self-conscious, thwarted groping toward a sense of self disturbingly sad. This judgment, nevertheless, is less a criticism of the playwright than of a broad sweep of young Americans who seem lost.
Certainly, the criticism does not attach to the polished and affecting performance by this small and young (three-year-old) but ambitious theatrical company. The ensemble cast of Lauren Myers, Evening Star Barron, Merritt C. Glover, Catherine Pilafas, Amelia Ampuero and Abraham Jallad (the sole male in this feminist drama that, curiously, was written and directed by men) melds together smoothly and engagingly. They seemed to enjoy each other as much as the audience enjoyed them.
The play continues at the Cell (a new venue for the company) Thursday-Sunday through May 26. Go to dukecityrep.com for tickets and more information.