By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
photo by Patrick McArdle
This is the time of year when most theater companies stage their most serious production of the season. Still to come in the months ahead are those spring comedies and season-ending blockbusters.
Unless…of course…you happen to be fun-loving Arizona Onstage Productions. This jaunty bunch has just opened a shampoo-bubbly production of the Alan Ball comedy “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.”
The play arrives as a welcome choice for theatergoers more in search of entertainment than enlightenment.
Ball premiered “Five Women” in 1993, which found immediate popularity on the regional theater scene as a topical comedy dealing with society’s shifting moral values. Then he went on to write the more timeless Academy Award-winning “American Beauty” and the TV sparklers “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood.”
Ball’s knack for being entertaining is the helium that lifts “Five Women” off the stage and keeps it floating. Because the dialogue is quite topical, some of the issues do feel dated. But the humor is good and director Terry Erbe draws fine and balanced performances from his five women – plus the token male, Tripp, who comes in manfully at the end as played by Robert Anthony Peters.
Balance is everything in this ensemble piece, as all five women have alternately leading and supporting roles.
Carley Elizabeth Preston makes the strongest impression as Meredith, the angry bridesmaid and younger sister of the unseen bride. Her energy gives a boost to every scene.
Carrie Hill gets a nice line going as Trisha, the worldly bridesmaid with more than 100 ex-lovers who also does most of the heavy lifting for the cause of women’s lib, as well.
Competing for bad-girl time is Amy Erbe’s note-perfect portrayal of Georgeanne, one of those sugary southern belles who, under that flouncy surface, is lusting for revenge.
Lori Hunt makes key contributions as Mindy the gay sister of the groom. She plays the role with a bold acceptance representing that decade when women started taking pride in their homosexuality, right along with the men.
The most delicate and tricky role goes to Debbie Runge as Frances, the devout southern Christian caught in the cross-fire of society’s changing attitudes toward religion.
As written, Ball’s lines take Christianity to task for being so far behind the enlightened times of sexual freedom, undisciplined drug use and challenges to authority.
But Runge cleverly turns the interpretation around to present a young woman proud of her decision to be a Christian and just as strongly resolute in living up to her own values.
“Five Women” is placed in the “mid to late 1980s” as a period piece with a super-realistic set design by Michael Boyd and some radio hits of the times.
The setting is a bedroom where all five bridesmaids have retired rather than face the pretense of acting like they are happy for the bride. As it turns out, none of them like the bride even though all of them had reasons for accepting the invitation.
It is this gradual dismantling of their proper southern respectability that provides the fun as each of them starts trying to top the others in digging deep for more shocking truths to reveal – about others as well as about themselves.
“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” continues through Feb.XX with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, in the Cabaret Space at the downtown Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.