Alan Ball’s catty R-rated comedy Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, which plays Aug. 9-12 and 15-19 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, reminds me of the punch line of an old joke about a really catty woman: “Saucer of milk. Table for one.” This uproarious Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presentation follows a quintet of runaway bridesmaids who make token appearances at the wedding reception, and then retreat to an upstairs bedroom and bare their claws as they shamelessly dish about the supremely self-centered bride whom, it seems, none of them really like and about the hapless groom who has heedlessly flung himself headlong into her tender trap. Poor boy. He’ll be wearing her ring through his nose.
Middle Creek High School theater-arts teacher Athena Marie Reaves of Apex is a pip as Meredith, a pot-smoking free spirit who’s just dying to spoil her sister Tracy’s big day. But the sarcastic sister of the bride hides a terrible secret under her flippant exterior.
New York actresses Jennifer Laine Williams and Mary Guiteras are hilarious as Tracy’s former friends Trisha and Georgeanne. After a track record that not even Madonna could match, Trisha has once again sworn off men; and Georgeanne is a desperate housewife, trapped in a boring marriage, who foolishly hopes to have a sexual liaison with an old flame sometime during the wedding festivities.
Raleigh actress Kerry Ann Lambert gives a gritty performance as the groom’s outspoken lesbian sister Mindy, who knows she’s a scandal and revels in that fact; and University of North Carolina at Greensboro sophomore Emily Labelle is amusing as Frances, an outspoken fundamentalist and a prissy pillar of rectitude who is about to have her horizons widened … at long last … by a handsome bald bartender who has introduced the teetotaling Frances to the intoxication of expensive champagne.
Movie-star handsome Raleigh native Ira David Wood IV, who now calls Los Angeles home, adds a charming comic cameo as Griffin Lyle “Tripp” Davenport III, who falls hard for Trisha but finds himself inexplicably put off his game when she responds eagerly to his most sordid suggestions about how they can spend the evening.
HSN director Kristen Coury has done a fine job of orchestrating this gabfest, so that the zingers tossed off by the titular characters almost always hit their mark. Set and lighting designer Curtis Lee Jones superbly recreates Meredith’s cozy bedroom with its Malcolm X poster prominently displayed to clash with the otherwise traditional décor and, mostly, to raise her mother’s blood pressure. Costume designer Casey Watkins has created some hideous bridesmaids’ dresses that add to the comedy, and sound designer Brian L. Hunt provides a soundscape that complements the action.
Hot Summer Nights’ frisky and very, very funny production of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress may just be the pick-me-up needed to made Triangle theatergoers forget the record heat wave — and all those appalling air-conditioning bills that will soon decimate their budgets. For broadminded audiences, Alan Ball’s 1993 Off-Broadway hit may well be a nice antidote to an otherwise depressing summer of national disasters and endless bickering among both parties’ disappointing roster of presidential candidates. Don’t forget to wear your ugly bridesmaid dress and shave $7.50 off the ticket price.
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents Five Women Wearing the Same Dress Wednesday-Saturday Aug. 8-11 and 15-18, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 12 and 19, at 3 p.m. in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $27.50, except $20 Sunday matinees and senior group rates. Progress Energy Center Box Office: 919/831-6060.Group Rates: 919/828-3726. Note 1: There will be FREE complimentary beverages and desserts at all intermissions. Note 2: Anyone who shows up at the Kennedy Box Office in an ugly bridesmaid dress will get in to the show for only $20! Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/shows.html#5wwtsd [inactive 2/10]. Alan Ball: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0050332/bio (Internet Movie Database) and http://movies2.nytimes.com/person/271194/Alan-Ball/biography (The New York Times).