The values battle—weighted most heavily on the side of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll—is played out at a wedding reception, specifically in the bride’s childhood bedroom, where all five bridesmaids have gathered seeking sanctuary from the pressures of the occasion.
The ladies, in their 20s and 30s, are all sisters, in-laws, cousins or friends of the happy couple (whom we never see). Rather than set us much of a plot, Ball gives us a female rap session laced with touchy-feely sisterhood moments.
The gals are generally very open about their issues. Two of them are avowedly promiscuous, one’s a card-carrying lesbian and one’s naive to the others’ sexual frankness and penchant for tobacco and pot, always declaring, “I’m a Christian.” The last is the bride’s sister, who’s nervous about something, then cracks in Act 2, revealing a secret about an adolescent sexual affair. Concerned accusations of abuse and rape fly about for a while, though our semi-heroine victim insists on proclaiming (unconvincingly) that it was all about love.
They analyze men (“They’re so weird...”), discuss abortion, flash breasts out a window, and occasionally get off a wisecrack that’s worth a chuckle, i.e., “I may be a bitch and a slut, but I have some standards.” Somewhere underneath this elevated sitcom scenario lies a sense of satire, with playwright Ball lampooning the Junior League aspirations of young Southern women by showing us the female equivalent of the men’s locker room.
The actresses—Megan Murphy, Elizabeth Eakin, Erin Burns, Sondra Morton-Chaffin and Nancy Whitehead—don’t exactly thrive under Corbin Green’s direction, which is technically proficient, yet lacks enough movement to stave off the sameness of the “she said/she said” dialogue. They each have their moments of humor and sobriety, with varying degrees of success. The rape revelation has some temporary power, with Murphy and Morton-Chaffin taking us into truly dramatic territory. But there’s an extended relationship scene between Whitehead and Mike Baum (the play’s only male) that’s too static and oddly mawkish, offset by the curious presence of cocaine.
Since the Boiler Room Theatre program doesn’t clue us in, we’re left guessing about the time of the play. References to the film Pretty Woman and a Polaroid instant camera would suggest the early ’90s.
At it’s best, Five Women is a showcase for the actresses, and once in a while their skills merge with good writing. Yet a story without plot is tough to sustain for the long haul, and that’s certainly the case here.
Yesterday and today
In its time, Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday was just a contemporary comedy-drama of 1946, but over the last six decades, the play’s become a bona fide period piece, and a pretty sturdy one at that. Under Lane Wright’s direction, Act 1’s production of Kanin’s work holds up surprisingly well, offering three strong leads who keep things interesting through three acts.
The key player is Tricia Cast, a noteworthy actress who appears only sparingly on local stages. Cast achieves the nearly impossible—she manages to channel the style, spirit and vocal inflections of Judy Holliday, who originally created the role of dizzy-blonde Billie Dawn onstage and in the movies. Hers is a technically sharp performance and, while imitative, neatly effects a lovable transformation from airheaded mistress to thoughtful independent woman. (In fact, the play’s somewhat feminist message was ahead of its time, though the ’40s audience may have seen it only in human terms.)
Cast inhabits the character fully, gets her laughs and inspires our admiration as she makes her stand against bully boyfriend Harry Brock, played by Chaz Howard with sufficient menace. Eric Ventress delivers a somewhat tentative but often appealing portrayal as Paul Verrall, the journalist-turned-mentor who encourages Billie’s learning and eventually wins her heart. Pete Hiett’s detailed set of a Washington, D.C., hotel suite isn’t quite as elegant as it hopes to be, but it effectively conjures the era. The show runs though March 15 at the Darkhorse Theater.
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