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was sold to gypsies as a small child for half a tank of gas and a kitten. She was quickly, if not easily, retrieved by her mother after the kitten was revealed to be an Eldrich horror looking for a ride into the nearest metropolitan area to begin wreaking havoc. It's been a bone of contention between Maria and her family ever since, whether the Horror-kitten would've been more or less trouble than she grew up to be.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review: Five Women Wearing the Same Dress

I used to have this cover. And then I read it so much, the cover fell off.

As my Twitter followers are well aware, this play consumed much of my time from March to mid June - which is in no small way partly responsible for this blogs ongoing silence. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is a play written by Alan Ball, the same writer behind the Kevin Spacey movie, American Beauty, and the HBO sensation, True Blood.

From Goodreads:

During an ostentatious wedding reception at a Knoxville, Tennessee, estate, five reluctant, identically clad bridesmaids hide out in an upstairs bedroom, each with her own reason to avoid the proceedings below. They are Frances, a painfully sweet but sheltered fundamentalist; Mindy, the cheerful, wise-cracking lesbian sister of the groom; Georgeanne, whose heartbreak over her own failed marriage triggers outrageous behavior; Meredith, the bride's younger sister whose precocious rebelliousness masks a dark secret; and Trisha, a jaded beauty whose die-hard cynicism about men is called into question when she meets Tripp, a charming bad-boy usher to whom there is more than meets the eye. As the afternoon wears on, these five very different women joyously discover a common bond in this wickedly funny, irreverent and touching celebration of the women's spirit.

Or, as I sold it to friends and family, five bridesmaids who detest the bride barricade themselves in her old room with half the open bar, and drunkenly bare their souls, spirituality, and sexual exploits over the course of two acts.

We. Look. Fabulous.

The Good:

Alan Ball has a gift for writing dark humor. His dialogue is sharp and cutting; it jumps off the page. Having spent some years living in the rural south, I was able to rapidly identify the characters he had created, and understood immediately where they were coming from in their angers and neurosis. Most of the time, the hard, descriptive language of the characters showed you precisely how hurt these women were and why.

The Bad:

What worked for the play also held it back.

The dark humor was well done, but when the play suddenly shifted into a very unfunny place, there was some confusion on how to feel. The dialogue is sharp, but also frequently inane and unintelligible. Ball uses localized slang which most of the actresses I worked with were unable to follow, and thus lost the thread of the conversation. The characters are easily recognizable in no small part because they are stereotypes of women; frames for characters without enough writing to make them real or show any visible evolution. Given time to read and understand the work, it's easy to evaluate and understand all these women and their unspoken and unexplored tribulations - the frames have the potential to make some fascinating characters. But ultimately, it is left to the viewer/reader to fill in those gaps themselves, and the approximately two hour run time is just not enough to pay attention to the plot and catch all the subtext.

The Rest:

Ball uses his writing as a soap box for his personal politics and philosophies. He's not the first writer to do this and he certainly won't be the last. But not everyone likes soap boxes, and he certainly could have handled them better here.

Even Ball seemed standoffish about some of the topics he introduces. There are discussions and arguments between characters where Ball makes his personal opinions known, but has no idea how to resolve them in the context of his own world. This is probably most notable with the character of Frances, a judgmental but well-intentioned evangelist, whose moral scruples with the other women are driven into passionately and poignantly, but are dropped like a hot potato and never picked up again or resolved to anyone's satisfaction.

Final Thoughts:

Alan Ball does not write about comfortable worlds, as viewers of his other works are probably well aware. He drags you into dark, secretive, restless, and painful lives of people whose realities are not what they'd hoped for. This type of story is not for everyone; there are readers and viewers who will shy away from this play simply because of the subject matter and how it's handled.

But my main contention with this play is the lack of resolution for anything. There is a cornucopia of issues Ball brings up only to abandon; even the fate of the characters is left on a wire. Maybe things will change and they'll grow...but maybe they won't and everyone will continue on exactly the same. While I can appreciate the sentiment behind ending on that note, it just didn't work.

Overall, it's a decent play and funny one. It just, much like its characters, has some problems and no one to talk to.

My Rating: 3/5 Mushrooms

Cha Cha Cheesewiz!


avantikads5 said...

I have gone through it . Its really nice and i like it. Thanks for sharing!

John J Koons said...

I just read this play as a potential for our theater group's next season. I think a lot of "The Bad" comments could have been due to directing. A good, imaginative director can work through these issues. How many times have we all seen "NUNSENSE?" Not much substance there but a good director helps the actors to find the necessary depth in characters to make the audience care about them and the story.