Pictured from left are Hali Fortin as Meredith, Heather Marichal as Trisha, Eileen Messina as Georgeanne, Alexandra Lynch as Frances and Kay Warren as Mindy in Community Little Theatre’s production, “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.”

Alan Ball, the screenwriter of the Academy Award-winning film “American Beauty,” in his play, “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress,” has woven an unrestrained, funny and often poignant work that explores and celebrates the bonds of womanhood. On the surface it is about love and marriage seen through the eyes of five bridesmaids at a wedding. But as the principal characters are developed, societal situations, such as sexual standards, gender inequality, homophobia and religion, emerge front and center. In so doing, the play employs frequent adult language and the themes may not be suitable for those under the age of 16.

The audience is invited into the bedroom of Meredith Marlowe (Hali Fortin), sister to the bride, Tracy (who is never seen). The traditional summer wedding ceremony is over and a lavish reception is about to begin on the lawn of the Marlowe residence. The entire play unfolds in Meredith’s bedroom which is in a somewhat state of disarray; she is just home from college and hasn’t yet settled in. Meredith is preoccupied with “little sister” issues, rebellion against authority (parental and societal) and seeks solace and escape in “getting high.”

To complicate matters her room is about to become refuge to the other four bridesmaids. They begin to congregate there to “freshen up” prior to joining (reluctantly, we learn) the festivities outside. Each woman, in her own way, is connected to the bride peripherally but we soon discover none is actually a close friend to her.

At first blush the one thing they do have in common is their attire. All, except perhaps Frances (Alexandra Lynch), the naive and religious cousin of the bride bedazzled by the whole “fairy tale wedding,” are in agreement that the garish bridesmaids dresses (selected by Tracy) are gaudy, unflattering and uncomfortable. This in contrast to the obscenely expensive and beautiful gown referenced in catty fashion by the bride’s attendants.

Trisha (Heather Marichal) is one of Tracy’s former friends who served as Tracy’s wing woman in their wilder days. She is attractive, but jaded, and has never married (not even close). She wields her “bad reputation” like a shield to avoid romantic relationships that, she is certain from past experience, are doomed.

Georgeanne (Eileen Messina), another of Tracy’s “sidekicks” in high school and college, has accepted the invitation to be a bridesmaid even though her relationship with Tracy is strained; Tracy’s former boyfriend/fiancé, Tommy Valentine (never seen), was responsible for her youthful pregnancy while avoiding accountability. She bemoans her own loveless marriage and is both titillated and disturbed by the attendance at the wedding of said Tommy Valentine. The other bridesmaids, as well, are all astonished that he is present at the wedding. Even more startling, it becomes evident that he has a prior history with each of the bridesmaids (and many other women).

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Mindy McClure (Kay Warren), the groom’s self-described “clumsy” and outspoken lesbian sister, has little past connection to the rest of the wedding party. As the action unfolds she becomes more and more a compelling voice and an ‘accepted’ member of the sorority of the Marlowe bridesmaid contingent.

Representing the many wedding party men who are “on the prowl,” the only male member of the cast we meet is Griffen Lyle Davenport III, aka “Tripp” (David Moyse). Tripp is an usher and has his eye on Trisha. Referenced obliquely early on, he only appears late in the proceeding. Trisha tries to keep him at arm’s length by flaunting her “bad girl” persona. She puts him at a tactical disadvantage by disarmingly giving the impression she is more agreeable to a one-night stand than he is. A “tables turned” scene ensues which seems a bit contrived as written by the playwright but is played credibly by Moyse and Marichal.

Ably directed by Jackie McDonald and assisted by Renee Davis, the cast is admirable in portraying the variously distinct personas of these women. And it is the women, their strengths, their flaws and their futures that are compelling. As their intimacy in the bedroom setting heightens, the women become more and more connected — and often confrontational. The dialogue reveals more and more about who they are and why with humor and honesty.

Empathy, likeability and compassion are evoked in each instance:

Alexandra Lynch’s naïve Frances somewhat timid early on, takes a firm stand in her religious beliefs but has her eyes opened to some actualities with which she can reconcile.

Hali Fortin’s Meredith moves convincingly from her rebellious, anti-establishment façade to a poignant and well played emotional breakdown.

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Eileen Messina’s Georgeanne gets the lioness’ share of the laugh lines, delivering them seamlessly, often bringing intense situations back to normalcy. Along the way she recaptures her self-esteem and finds strength to free herself both from her fixation with Tommy and her unhappy marriage.

Kay Warren’s Mindy evolves from newcomer and observer to counselor and authority. Her recounting of her own youth and background puts her solidly in concert with her straight sisters and newfound confidantes.

Heather Marichal’s Trisha mostly powers the action. She freely dispenses advice with the self-assured wisdom of her own cynical experience. A jarring scene in which she confronts Frances’ evangelical rectitude, however, as written by the playwright, seems overly aggressive and is then glossed over in a somewhat unsatisfying way. But Marichal undeniably delivers Trisha’s point of view with passion and conviction.

Applause to the entire cast for a spirited rendition of a captivating play. Dialogue wheeling through no less than five characters at a time is a challenge met professionally by all.

Kudos to Jackie McDonald, Renee Davis and the Community Little Theatre for continuing to tackle controversial and topical subject matter via plays like “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.”

Theater is not only entertainment, but so much more. It is an intimate and compelling venue for exploring themes and subject matter relevant to the world around us. Historically this been one of its core roles; from the Greeks to Shakespeare, from Broadway, both on and off, to Academy Street in Auburn, theater is affirmation to the necessity of and the right to freedom of expression, ideas and speech. “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” is right on target in this regard.

“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” remaining performances: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, June 13-15, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 16, at 2 p.m.


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