It is easy to stereotype Southern belles, a character staple since Scarlett O'Hara first said 'fiddle-dee-dee' 80 years ago, reinforced by 'Designing Women" and the current "The Real Housewives of Atlanta."
But Alan Ball's sharp, irreverent comedy "Five Women Wearing the Same Dress" does not simplify women born south of the Mason-Dixon line.
And Stray Dog Theatre's production emphasizes the quintet's individual essence, presenting complicated, fully realized females.
The well-cast ensemble provides vivid, distinct portrayals of a sweet and sassy assortment of bridesmaids. And yes, they are funny girls.
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The time is early 1990s and a garden reception is taking place at a lavish estate. The hideously-clad bridesmaids hang out, rather hide out, in an upstairs bedroom.
Frivolity gives way to serious girl talk and truths are revealed. Some of the characters share a past, others are new to the mix, but all bond during two acts, despite their obvious differences.
Director Gary F. Bell deftly moved the cast around the well-appointed bedroom, which he also designed, the haven for the bride's kid-sister Meredith. They eat, drink, spill secrets, giggle, trade barbs and experiment with makeup.
Meredith is a sharp-tongued quasi-rebel wanting people to believe she's a spunky girl who travels on the wild side, and energetic Lindsay Gingrich is good at projecting bravado with an underlying restlessness.
She is in sharp contrast to cousin Frances, a conservative Christian with old-fashioned values that the rest don't share. Eileen Engel smartly captures Frannie's innocence and insecurities.
Sarajane Alverson excels at playing confident, worldly women. As Trisha, she slinks around with attitude, coming on feisty and strong. She talks a real good game, especially with the lone male in the cast, Tripp.
Kevin O'Brien doesn't appear until the second act, but he's a necessary voice as male-female relationships are explored.
While all the actresses are strong, spirited Shannon Nara is the standout as the conflicted beauty Georgeanne, a debutante with real-people problems. She superbly personifies an aging pretty woman at a crossroads, who until now has glided through life. Does she even know what she wants?
The odd-girl-out is Mindy, the groom's lesbian sister, who gamely tries to fit in with all the debs, but is rather gangly and self-deprecating. Newcomer Frankie Ferrari, a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, is appealing in the physical role, displaying quick timing — and able to nosh non-stop convincingly.
This isn't a dainty tea party, so conversations are often raunchy and slumber-party confessional.
Ball, the creator of "True Blood" and "Six Feet Under," also helmed the mid-90s network sitcom "Cybill," and has a flair for capturing how women really talk. His dialogue is crisp, and he offers no apologies.
The five actresses are at ease on the stage, even while wearing those baby-blue satin atrocities. Nice costume work by Eileen Engel.
This comedy is a lively, fun exercise that offers more than a familiar rite of passage, thanks to solid work by a pitch-perfect ensemble.
"Five Women Wearing the Same Dress"
- Who: Stray Dog Theatre
- When: Thursday through Saturday through June 25
- Where: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave., St. Louis 63104
- Information: 314-865-1995 or www.straydogtheatre.org