After a writer finds his voice — and there’s no question Alan Ball has found his with “American Beauty” and “Six Feet Under” — it’s little more than a curiosity to look back at earlier work. Ball’s play, “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress,” about a group of bridesmaids in the South, displays flashes of what would become a sparklingly sharp wit, an ability to craft efficient characterization and a certain structural sturdiness. But, at least in this sullen version on view at the Elephant Theater in Hollywood, the play is too blandly typical.
There are almost no real surprises in “Five Women.” It’s a character-based piece, and a decent one, but it doesn’t ascend beyond the level of other seriocomedies about groups of women, such as “Vanities,” “Uncommon Women and Others” and “Steel Magnolias.”
In this production, directed by acting teacher Nikolai Guzov and starring a number of his students, the characters lack the sharp edges that would make their stereotypical qualities less grating. There’s Jesus-loving Frances (Jen Richey), liberal depressive Meredith (Sara Arrington), promiscuous beauty Trisha (Danielle Sapia), clumsy lesbian Mindy (Leanne Richelle) and unhappily married, slightly overweight Georgeanne (Jennifer Hawtrey).
Meredith’s older sister is getting married, and the characters escape to a bedroom haven away from the marital action to refresh, gossip or, perhaps, cry over a perceived slight. Each gets doled out a revelation, and the play leads up to a scene where Trisha, 30 and still single, gets to flirt with a nice boy (Danny La Cava) who wants no more than to do drugs and have sex with her. For the most part, Ball avoids the melodrama. And, for the most part, the actors here avoid interesting choices.
The whole thing plays like an extended scene for an acting class, with the ensemble working hard to make it look like they’re not working hard, and therefore never finding what might be enticing or charming. The play does come alive a bit when Richelle leads the way, and it tends to drag when Arrington takes over.
Along with Hawtrey, Arrington designed the dress of the title, a nicely done-up but not-outrageous-enough peach-colored affair with extra frills. Guzov designed the set, and he forces much of the audience to watch the actors through the rails of a large headboard positioned downstage center.