Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Twilight’s Latest More Fun Than A Barrell of Bridesmaids

Chelsea Read, Genevieve Larson, Morgan Lee, Danyelle Tinker, Adriana Gantzer, Emily Jeziorski

By Tina Arth

Note to self: NEVER sit between two experienced actors when reviewing a show. They will (guaranteed!) focus on the one feature of an otherwise fine show that doesn’t quite ring true – and once it’s been pointed out to the hapless reviewer, that one detail, no matter how trivial, will loom like a 500# gorilla. More on that later…

Twilight Theater’s Five Women Wearing the Same Dress lives right in the middle of my favorite nonmusical genre – dramedy. Unless you’re Neil Simon or Noel Coward, it can be tough to sustain two acts of straight comedy, no matter how wittily written. Serious drama dealing with important themes, but unleavened by a generous helping of humor, is often a bit overwhelming.  Playwright Alan Ball’s Five Women…  weaves topics like lesbianism, AIDS, child sexual abuse, bigotry, fundamentalist religion, promiscuity, and abortion into an otherwise hilariously irreverent tale of the horrors of bridesmaid’s dresses and the angst of the women condemned to wear them. While some of the language is a bit dated (one speaks of HIV these days, rather than AIDS) the fundamental story is pretty timeless.

Novice director Ilana Watson, explaining why she wanted to direct the play, points out that “there is not always a lot of variety for women on the stage, and not much opportunity to explore why women are who they are, much less explore all of the different ways there are to be a woman.” Watson’s cast members mine the script for all its worth, and despite their identical dresses (and godawful hats) by the end of the show the audience has no trouble differentiating between the five women and seeing them as individuals – just as the women come to see and understand each other.

The play is set entirely in the upstairs bedroom of the rebellious Meredith during the wedding reception of her older sister, Bridezilla Tracy. As the five bridesmaids come and go, we learn that they are hiding out upstairs as much as possible, uncomfortable with the wedding party downstairs; they dislike Tracy almost as much as their dresses; and they have plenty of issues with the wedding guests (in particular Tommy Valentine, a devilishly handsome but unseen Casanova who has slept with the majority of the bridal party, including the bride).  There are no weak links in the 6-person cast, so it’s difficult to call out any actors for special notice, but a few hit particularly high notes.

Danyelle Tinker (“Trisha”) is simultaneously the wildest of the five bridesmaids and the most sensible. Tinker give her character a breezy cynicism that precisely captures the role’s contradictions – she has matured since her bad-girl college days, but she has not lost the spirit of mischief and adventure that keeps her open to whatever comes her way.  Playing Mindy, the groom’s out-of-the-closet gay sister,  Emily Jeziorski delivers a fascinating performance, completely devoid of easy lesbian stereotypes. She seems completely comfortable with her sexuality, yet it’s not the defining feature of her life (perhaps a difficult feat in upper-class 1993 Tennessee) so she is able to bond unself-consciously with each of the women.

I feel slightly guilty choosing, as perhaps my favorite performer, Morgan Lee (the only male who actually appears onstage, as usher “Tripp”). In a play that’s really all about the women, he appears late in Act II and simply steals the rest of the show with his playful, witty, egalitarian and persistent pursuit of Trisha. Tinker and Lee instantly develop an on-stage chemistry that has the audience rooting for their budding romance/friendship – unlike all of the (unseen) male wedding guests, Tripp is obviously just a really nice guy, apparently devoid of the huge character flaws the women have found in the other men in their lives.

The costumes are predictably hideous – there would be no joke if Tracy had put her bridesmaids in less humiliating attire – and a lovely subtle touch is that Lee’s tie is a close color match to the clouds of bilious salmon in the dresses.  The set is simple and adequate to create the effect of a rebellious daughter’s lair in her wealthy parents’ home.  Now, for the gorilla: many scenes in the play involve one or more of the women looking out the bedroom window to the crowd of guests at the reception. There is a nice window upstage left, and at times the women peer out that window and discuss the scene below – but at other times, they face directly out at the audience while looking down and commenting.  Given the harsh realities of architecture, both windows cannot look down on the same group of people. Would I have noticed this without input from the folks in neighboring seats? Probably not, but once it was brought to my attention I could not get it out of my head.

Go see the show – it’s really, really funny, very touching, and Watson and her cast hit just the right notes of cynicism and hope. Just don’t think about those windows.

Twilight Theater Company’s Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Sunday, May 14th with performances at 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday and 3:00 P.M. Sunday. There is an additional performance Thursday, May 11th at 8:00 P.M.

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