Review: Five Women Wearing The Same Dress (Act IV Theatre Co)

activtheatreVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Oct 28 – Nov 2, 2014
Playwright: Alan Ball
Director: Deborah Jones
Cast: Nadim Accari, Kaitlin DeLacy, Chloe McKenzie, Eleanor Ryan, Melinda Ryan, Wendy Winkler
Image by Tim Levy

Theatre review
Weddings are traditional affairs that expose the roles that we play for others in daily life, and our obligations as friends and family members. Participation in weddings often involves some level of reluctance, and most would probably prefer to be some place else doing something less painful. Alan Ball’s fabulous script is about the interactions between five bridesmaids after a wedding ceremony. The women have distinct personalities, with nothing in common, except for the hideous purple dress forced onto their bodies, and an unconcealed dislike for the bride. The play’s context positions the women in relation to the concept of marriage, and we observe how the supposed universal ideal of matrimony is no longer relevant to modern lives. Ball’s fascinating characters reveal their individual idiosyncrasies and it becomes clear that fulfilment and happiness might have little or nothing at all to do with marriage.

Ball’s writing is entertaining, whimsical and punchy. The charming language of the American South is showcased beautifully, and the women’s lives are vividly imagined, with a familiarity that allows us to find points of association. Their worlds seem real, because Ball exposes their imperfections in a way that demonstrates a humanity that we can relate to. Direction of the work is provided by Deborah Jones who brings a clarity to narratives and motivations. She keeps energy levels high, but there is a stasis to the atmosphere that prevents the show from providing a more dynamic experience. The comedy is written well, but it is not a uniformly strong cast, so the results of delivery are mixed and chemistry is not always fine. It must be noted that although some performances are less effective, every actor is clearly full of conviction and focus, and the stage is always an engaging one.

Eleanor Ryan is outstanding in the role of Mindy, a jovial lesbian who exemplifies the liberated individual in a world overrun by peer pressure and broken promises. Ryan’s comic timing is a highlight of the production and her creation is the most endearing of the group. Her style is much more flamboyant than her colleagues, but she retains a grounding authenticity that keeps her character believable and interesting. The complex role of Georgeanne is played by Wendy Winkler, who captivates with a clever blend of tragedy and irony. Her depiction of strength and optimism in the role’s banal existence is delightfully inspiring.

This is a play about women from a man’s perspective, and even though it is debatable if the writer knows the gender well, he certainly does understand the human condition. The anxieties it expresses and the desires it explores are absolutely real for many of us. Five Women Wearing The Same Dress often feels like light entertainment, but what it leaves behind is altogether more deep and meaningful. We think about the choices that present themselves, and the ones that seem elusive. The decisions that we make shape the life that we live, but so do the circumstances that seem to be beyond control. When a wedding invitation arrives, one can only choose to accept or decline, but to respond with honesty and truth is infinitely more perplexing.

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