Damsels in This Dress

Remember when live theatre was an event, a special occasion? Just as I was beginning to fear that those days were gone, along comes a troupe called In Mixed Company, which takes a good evening of theatre, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, and turns it into a happening.

Five Women is the best production to be presented in the Valley since ASU's Stages.

This progressive troupe has brought the wedding experience to the intimate 7th Street Theater, complete with tuxedo-clad ushers, adeejay, wedding cake and champagne. Combine these ingredients with a well-acted performance of Alan Ball's thoughtful, outrageous play and you have a true theatrical experience. I won't give away any more of the surprises awaiting you; just dress up and wear your dancing shoes.

Like Steel Magnolias and the current cinema hit Waiting to Exhale, Five Women explores modern women's struggles with self-esteem, sexual abuse, ritual, rejection and, of course, men. The setting is Meredith's bedroom, which becomes a refuge from her sister's wedding reception below. Meredith and the four other bridesmaids assemble to gripe about the bride ("always a bridesmaid, never a schmuck") and to help each other cope with the memories that weddings and family gatherings dredge up.

Meredith and her cousin Frances are as opposite as they could be on the surface; Meredith is a drug-taking rebel, Frances is a fundamentalist Christian. But they are essentially the same--youthful idealists who believe that if only other people would adopt their world view, everything would be fine.

Tricia, once the bride's best friend, and Georgeanne, a distant friend of the bride, also have common struggles, yet they are polar opposites in their actions. Tricia drifts from lover to lover (claiming 100 or so), unwilling to open herself to real love; Georgeanne covets approval from men, unwilling to approve of herself. Both are thus removed from the possibility of experiencing true love.

The final bridesmaid, Mindy, is the groom's lesbian sister. Mindy is a calming influence, a sounding board for the bridesmaids. In contrast to the four other reception refugees, she has achieved a sense of maturity and balance.

Together, the personalities in this collection lay bare each other's inner lives as they quarrel, cry, drink and love together, making choices that will help each grow--perhaps even find happiness.

The play is suffused with humor, but Ball pulls no punches when he wants to make a point, be it about religion, AIDS or aging. Still, the play manages to end on a note of optimism without sugarcoating the difficult road ahead for each of the characters.

The play is wonderfully paced; director Jean Thomsen makes this two-hour group-therapy session whiz by.

Leading the cast in a beautiful piece of acting is Ginny Harman as Georgeanne. Harman ranges easily from silly to somber, and imbues Georgeanne with real depth.

As Tricia, the queen of the one-night stands, Debra K. Stevens rationalizes her behavior as the expected outcome of her past. Stevens' timing is smooth and deliberate as she tries to convince herself that sensual pleasure is true happiness.

Suzanne Sanders plays a militant Meredith, declaring what's on her mind at any volume shefeels is appropriate. Sanders is the focus of the disturbing scene in this show, and she handles Meredith's deep-seated conflict with just the right touch.

Katie McFadzen brings a fine sense of physical comedy to the role of Mindy, playing both butch and debutante with equal skill. McFadzen's nonchalance strengthens her character.

As the beleaguered Frances, Jasmine Stocken comes across as stilted at times, but is ultimately convincing as the designated substance-free member of this party.

This show is not to be missed. In Mixed Company has brought excitement back to live theatre, and can serve as an example for other Valley theatre companies.--Gerald Thomson

In Mixed Company's production of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress continues through Saturday, January 27, at 7th Street Theater, 3302 North Seventh Street.

 
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