Friday, April 15, 2011

'Five Women' provides solid laughs

CONWAY — Before writing the Academy Award-winning film “American Beauty” and creating the popular and critically-acclaimed HBO shows “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood,” Alan Ball wrote “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress,” a tart comedy about five bridesmaids hiding from a bride they can't stand.
M&D Productions has dug up this relatively obscure comedy as its latest production, which opened Thursday, April 14, at Your Theatre at Willow Common in North Conway, N.H. and will be running Thursday through Saturday until the end of the month.
A review in the Austin Chronicle described the show as “The Breakfast Club” with bridesmaids, and that's fairly accurate. Depending on your outlook, a wedding could be as tortuous as a Saturday detention and, like that film, these five women represent different types. They all trade one-liners and ultimately become confessional about dark secrets.
Frances (Natasha Repass) is a sweet, naive Christian; Meredith (Bethany Taylor) is the bride's cynical, bitter younger sister; Trisha (Hannah Gaschott) has been with many men and is jaded about the idea of love; Georgeanne (Kelly Karuzis) is drinking heavily because of a failing marriage and re-ignited feelings for an old fling; and Mindy (Jodie Mullin) is the groom's quick-witted lesbian sister.
The final dress rehearsal I saw had a stand-in for Karuzis as she has fallen ill. Brenda Bailey filled in as Georgeanne at the the final rehearsal and opening night performances. Despite still having a script, Bailey gave a complete performance at the rehearsal. There will be another stand-in for this Friday and Saturday performances, but Karuzis will hopefully return for the second and third week of the production.
Ball's script, much like his screenplay for “American Beauty,” is populated by an abundance of sharply written dialogue that attempts to balance comedy with tragedy. “American Beauty” satirized the American dream and suburbia. “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” is critically of the institution of marriage, but doesn't ever go over to full-out satire.
The script does lampoon Christianity through the character of Frances, who is played nicely by Repass in a performance that is mostly silent reactions to the “shocking” use of profanity, alcohol and pot.
It is an imperfect show with wild shifts in tones that don't always work. The dramatic scenes are well written, but revelations are given their due and then it is back to the sassy dialogue. It is a credit to first-time director Christina Howe and the women of the cast that they overcome the shortcomings of the script.
Taylor has the most challenging role as her character has the darkest secret. Throughout the show it is clear Meredith's tough, angry, sarcastic facade is hiding something, and when she finally cracks Taylor portrays her pain honestly and believably.
Mullin's Mindy is, thankfully, not written as a stereotypical token gay character. The character even states at one point she doesn't want to be a man-hater. Mindy gets some of the show's best lines, and she delivers them well.
Gaschott gives a solid performance, but doesn't seem quite as hardened as her character should be. Still, she handles the witty dialogue well and has a good concluding scene with Eric Jordan as the one male in the cast.
In the scene, Gaschott and Jordan literally and figuratively do an uneasy dance as Gaschott's Trisha decides whether to let her guard down. Jordan, who normally plays broadly comedic characters, has to pull back those tendencies and be laid back and charming, and he achieves this admirably.
This is a show with many big laughs and a few well placed dramatic moments. It is uneven to be sure, but this strong cast makes it work.
Ticket prices are $25 for non-members, $18 for members. For reservations call 662-7591.

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