The play “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” is about Tracy Marlowe’s wedding day, but the actual wedding is never shown. In fact, Tracy herself, who has the perfect job and the perfect husband and so on, is never shown.
Instead, the 1993 comedy — written by Alan Ball, and currently being produced by The Company at the Hackensack Cultural Arts Center — focuses on the five bridesmaids, whose lives are far from perfect. And that’s a good thing, from a dramatic point of view.
None of them really likes Tracy, in fact — “Doesn’t she have any real friends?”, one character asks — and they’re not enjoying the wedding very much. So they spend much of the day hanging out in Tracy’s sister Meredith’s room (the wedding is at the family’s Knoxville, Tenn. house). The entire play takes place in that room.
This is a play that manages to be profound without hitting you over the head with it. As the bridesmaids drink together, and talk, and clash, and support each other, we learn more and more about them. They may all be wearing the tacky uniforms that Tracy wants them to, but they’re all distinct individuals. Yet we also learn that the way they present themselves to the world is another kind of false front, hiding their true selves.
Meredith (played by Danielle Manente), for instance, seems tough and rebellious —she criticizes the wedding attendees as being “aggressively normal” — but eventually reveals a vulnerable side, telling the other bridesmaids about a painful secret that she still seems to be in denial about, in some ways.
Frances (Jennifer Robbins) is a devout Christian, afraid to let the world see her covetous and lustful urges. “I don’t smoke, I’m a Christian,” she intones, robotically, when Meredith offers her a joint.
Georgeanne (Mandy Evans) is a young mother whose marriage is falling apart. Tough-talking Trisha (Andrea Prendamano) sleeps around and tries to convince the world that she is jaded, but still seems to be yearning for true love when in the presence of hard-partying but sensitive usher Tripp (R.J. Lucci).
Even the bluntly outspoken and comically clumsy Mindy (Larissa Lamont) shocks everyone when she talks about going to charm school as a child. And loving it.
Ball doesn’t pull any punches when writing about the unsavory aspects of the characters’ lives, but eventually lets some healing light into the tortured Meredith’s room. Wisely, though, he stops short of smoothing everything out with an implausibly upbeat or overly saccharine resolution.
Under Lou Scarpati’s direction, the actors do a good job of conveying the characters’ contradictory urges and delivering Ball’s dry dialogue. A scene in which they muse on makeup names like Tangerine Dream and Simply Strawberry — “How come makeup is always named after food?”, Mindy asks — is practically Seinfeldesque, in a good, wry way.
Set designer Joe Curran makes the look of Meredith’s room echo her confusion — it could be a child’s room, except for the Malcolm X poster hanging over the bed. Costume designer Roxie Zeek has the crucial task of making the dresses unappealing but not ridiculously ugly, and comes through.
Alan Ball is not a major playwright. He has worked mostly in film and television, and “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” is one of only two plays he has written. I guess it will never make it to Broadway or be made into a major motion picture — that moment has passed — but it’s great that skillful organizations such as The Company exist, to gives plays like this continued life.
“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” is at the Hackensack Cultural Arts Center through April 17; visit theatrecompany.biz.