What is it about the South that produces such delicious language and characters? The plays of Tennessee Williams, the novels of William Faulkner, and even Steel Magnolias and Designing Women all evoke the flowery charm of this linguistically fertile area of America. Fly on the Wall Theatre Company's extraordinary revival of playwright Alan Ball's mediocre 5 Women Wearing the Same Dress follows suit in capturing every nuance of this rich culture.
From the moment a pink-bedecked bridesmaid waltzes on stage, it feels like one is, well, a fly on a wall, peering at the foibles and fascinations of six people at a wedding reception. The gifted director David DeBeck and his talented cast and crew imported a piece of Knoxville, Tennessee into a tiny basement theatre on West 42nd Street. It couldn't be more real than actually flying there yourself.
The five ladies of the title are bridesmaids for a woman they all hate. The 21-year-old virgin, Frances (Julia Ryan) doesn't drink or smoke or do drugs. She repeatedly reminds us that this is because she "is a Christian." The beautiful Ms. Ryan exuded the requisite naiveté with complete ease. Caitlin I. Barton, playing Meredith, the bitter younger sister of the bride, was a delight to watch as she stewed throughout the socializing. Martha Isabel Castro was lovable as the been-around-the-block Trisha, who blushingly falls in love again. She got the best scene in the play - a simple boy-meets-girl-moment -- and gave it the heart it deserves. It is hard to imagine the wonderful Wendy Leigh Flynn, as Georganne, looking any more haggard. She's the woman who chose the wrong husband and won't be having sex tonight. Kate Rushing portrayed Mindy, the clumsy, lesbian sister of the groom. Rushing was a joy to watch, whether bumping into a nightstand or filling her mouth with bacon wrapped appetizers. And Lair Torrant - coming off of his riveting turn in Bar Stories at the Pulse -- put in another steamy performance as the lady-slayer, Tripp.
The set, designed by Carlo Adinolfi, was so astonishingly realistic, one could easily move in if the fourth wall were built. All the costumes -- including the frilly, pink, chiffon and much-maligned dress of the title -- were impeccably designed by Michael Berglund. Judith M. Daitsman's unerring lighting kept the entire play in the pleasant light of a Tennessee mid-afternoon.
Unfortunately, there's not enough plot to go with the production. The misanthropic bride's sister keeps hoping that something horrible will happen to spoil her sibling's special day. Nothing does. Fortunately so many good things do occur in 5 Women that it is easy to dismiss this flaw in the writing.
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Copyright 1999 David Mackler