Moriah Harrod & Rae Hester in Five Women Wearing The Same Dress. Photo: Patricius Carlsen

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress

By Alan Ball
Directed by Kaitlin Fortwengler

A review by Tory Parker

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Tory Parker. All rights reserved.

Compared to your average Jo, I go to a lot of weddings. I’m a woman in my late twenties and one of my best friends is a wedding planner in need of assistants—so I mean a LOT of weddings. Like prom, road trips, or The Big Game, weddings are one of those things that exists in media as a completely different entity than as it does in the real world. To the point that there are expectations around fictional weddings, characters we expect to meet, and plot lines we expect to play out. There’s going to be a messy ex, there’s going to be old friends with a complicated past, and there’s going to be some sort of symbolism related to the cake. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress has it all, in all its cream-puffed, rosy-colored glory.

The play explores the dynamics between 5 bridesmaids: Meredith, the bride’s pissed-off little sister, Trish, the Whore, Mindy, The Lesbian, Georgeanne, The Disgruntled Wife, and Frances, The Christian. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing archetypal characters, and to their credit, the team in this production dug around and found some nuance, but these characters are defined by their Type and how those Types + Wedding = Plot, and there’s not terrible much to peel back beyond that. I am waiting for a silver bullet of a play written by a man that really understands how women talk to each other, how they feel for each other, and what matters to them. And I’ll keep waiting.

While you might not know the name Alan Ball, you know his work. American Beauty, Six Feet Under, True Blood—all award-winning! So far as I can tell, however, Five Women came first and is his only stage play. It’s fitting then that Kaitlin Fortwengler would choose his 1993 playwriting debut as her 2023 directorial one. Both show some evidence of needing to get the kinks out, get a little more practice in, finesse the good and drop the bad a little more intentionally.

Ball’s writing has evolved throughout his career, and with a great deal of practice and excellent collaborators. I’m confident Fortwengler will be the same. At times it felt like the actors were fighting against dialogue that should be snappy, clipping along, sparking under their feet, their energies so wildly different from one another’s that they not only felt like different people, they felt like they were all in different plays. Pacing, especially with an ensemble piece, is a finicky and tricky business. And the script, which throws huge emotional bombs into the mix with absolutely no textual roadmap on how to avoid the bumpy ride, doesn’t offer a lot of help.

The five women in the cast have good chemistry, and their dynamics, while they sometimes felt inconsistent, never felt forced or cringe. It’s clear they, like their director, are a brave and motivated group, especially Carol Jacqueline as Trish and Anna Francis as Mindy. But they are constantly moving, wandering around the set, sitting and standing and sitting and standing, climbing, lounging. Movements like that on top of a dense script, on TOP of clunky high-heeled shoes, and some truly terrible and constricting bridesmaids’ looks, tended to bog the energy down. The movements felt constricted at times, and unintentional other times. Particularly in the last scene, a dialogue between Trish and Tripp (Token Nice Man) (Seth Hinkle), the characters are having a verbal face-off, but so much of the tension that should have existed between them butted up against their constant walking from one part of the stage to another—from one seat to a chaise to a bed to a desk, etc., etc.

There were other moments that were truly lovely–like a stark and sweet conversation between old friends about AIDs. That quiet, intimate moment between Trish and Georgeanne (Moriah Harrod) was tender and real, and was one of the only emotional high points that doesn’t end in screaming. There was evidence of something found, an organic moment that exists in its simplest form in the script, that is found by the actors, and fostered by their director. I hope to see so many more just like that moment from Fortwengler in the future. 

Featuring Rae Hester, Carol Jacqueline, Anna Francis, Madelyn Hagan, Moriah Harrod, Seth Hinkle. 

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress

March 23 – 26, 2023

TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana/NAPAC
203 E Main St.
New Albany, IN 47150

Tory Parker, originally from West Virginia, is now a proud Kentuckian as well. In Louisville, she’s worked and/or performed with Actors Theatre of Louisville, Claddagh Theatre Company, the Chamber Theatre, Bellarmine University, Wayward Actors Company, Derby City Playwrights, Company OutCast, Highview Arts Center, and director Emily Grimany. She is a co-founding artist of the queer theatre collaborative, three witches shakespeare. As a playwright, her original works appeared in the National Women’s Theatre Festival in their 2020 and 2021 Fringe Festivals.