This weekend, Sheridan College Theatre & Dance will present “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” by renowned screenwriter Alan Ball. You may know that name: he won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for the film “American Beauty,” and also created the HBO series “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood.” While not necessarily renowned for being a playwright, Ball has a talent for writing characters who wade through the mires of true love, physical intimacy, truth and deceit.
This ability to create a pantheon of characters who contend with this short, yet very complex laundry list of psychological constructs is what attracted me to this play in the first place — beyond the fact that “American Beauty” has been my favorite movie for decades. I’ve wanted to do this play since I first read it, as I knew it would be a piece that would speak to many, and would allow the actors and audience moments of levity and honest self-reflection. Like any seasoned director would tell you, the conditions have to be just right for such alchemy. I firmly believe the conditions are right for such a perfect storm.
The play is about bridesmaids. While the Oscar-nominated comedy of the name “Bridesemaids” might conjure images of over-the-top humor and abs sore from laughing, this play will also offer moments of humor, but balances them with some dark turns as well. Through the play, we see five women who have been asked to be the bridal party for a woman who has all made them feel “less than.” Each of them is dealing with a personal cross to bear, of which they are not necessarily embarrassed, but … well, we all have our skeletons. The play takes place in a bedroom of the bride’s parents house, as each of the women escapes the awkwardness of the reception, seeking refuge. And, without spoiling too much, they find solace and unity in each other.
However, as nicely resolved as that sounds, I will suggest that not one of these characters finds resolution in the two hours’ traffic of our stage. As Chekhov would have us wondering with any of his plays, as spectators of these events, we are allowed the opportunity to identify with these characters, either wholly or individually, and ask ourselves some essential questions about life. We get to see the consequences of choices made, and how they affect these characters. Similar to the characters in Sartre’s “No Exit” (which has offered comparison many times throughout the rehearsal process), these characters are in something of a purgatory, between a choice and consequence.
I would suggest that this is precisely what our predecessors in the Greek Theatre — and those eras it inspired — had in mind for the purpose of theatre: self-reflection. In addition, it’ll give you some laughs. My students were lucky enough to have the Actors from the London Stage in residence last week, who said that these students have absolutely “cracking comedic timing,” and described their performances as nothing less than “extraordinary.”
“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” is at the WYO this week; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 11-13 at 7:30 p.m. with an additional matinee on Saturday the 13th at 2 p.m. Tickets can be reserved at the WYO Theater Box Office.
I’ll see you at intermission!
By Aaron Odom