At first glance, the title ‘Five Women Wearing the Same Dress’ sounds like a physical impossibility. Instead, this often hilarious, sometimes poignant, always funny play is the first spring season offering of Brainerd Community Theatre. The play runs February 23-24 and March 1-2 at 7:30 p.m., with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on March 3. All performances are in the Dryden Theatre on the Brainerd campus of Central Lakes College.
Brainerd Community Theatre (BCT) producer/director Patrick Spradlin sat down with Michael Sander, the play’s director, to talk about Alan Ball’s script, the cast, and the process of rehearsal. Sander is a well-known actor and director in the area, bringing decades of professional and community theatre experience to this project. He’s guided productions at Pequot Lakes Community Theatre with ‘The Spitfire Grill,’ ‘The Game’s Afoot,’ and ‘She Loves Me’ being some of his more recent works. Michael’s stage work includes numerous dramatic and musical theatre roles. At BCT he’s appeared on stage in productions like ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’ ‘The Seafarer,’ and ‘Spamalot.’
BCT: How would you describe the plot of the play ‘Five Women Wearing the Same Dress’?
Sander: The five women of the title are bridesmaids, who retreat to an upstairs bedroom to escape the wedding festivities downstairs at a house wedding in Knoxville, Tennessee. Some are old friends, others are relative strangers. We rapidly discover that they all detest the bride, and that each one has a secret she doesn’t necessarily want to share with the others. They bond, argue, and say a number of really hilarious things before their hideaway is invaded by a lone male. It’s a lot more complex than that, but that’s the short version.
BCT: What attracted you to this particular play?
Sander: I saw the original off-Broadway production of ‘Five Women Wearing the Same Dress’ many years ago  and immediately fell in love with the play. I knew I’d never have the opportunity to act in it–despite the title, there is one male in the cast, but I would never be him–but when the chance came to direct it at Brainerd Community Theatre, I grabbed it. There is such a rich selection of talented women in the local theatre community that I knew I would have no trouble in casting it, and such has proven to be the case. And in addition, the Dryden Theatre, a flexible space that is not always hospitable to some plays, seemed like the perfect locale for this particular piece. Although the author, Alan Ball, is a man, I believe he shows remarkable insight into the way women relate to one another when there are no men around. The experts I have consulted–my cast–assure me that this is so. The play is funny, occasionally heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting and positive.
BCT: The play seems to focus on ideas and themes women can identify with. What would you say to men (and, for that matter, women) who may be thinking about attending?
Sander: Guys, you’ll feel as if you’re eavesdropping on the conversations in a women’s locker room–without any fear of being discovered. Women, I think you’ll recognize any number of conversations you’ve had with friends about men, relationships, and sex. By the way, sex is an important topic here, and the language is often surprisingly salty, so the play is not for children.
The cast of ‘Five Women’ includes Maren Goff, Rachael Kline, Nicole Rothleutner, Stephanie White, and Lauren Wiseley. The lone male cast member is Jesse Brutscher. When asked how his experience has been working with this cast, Sander responded: “The cast has been amazingly cooperative and congenial in building the relationships inherent in the script and in supporting one another. Some of them have a great deal of experience and some are newcomers to the local stage, but they have blended into a mutually supportive society while creating distinctive individual characters. When there is a question of how women might react in certain situations, they have not hesitated to put their director on the right track. This has been a delightfully communicative experience, and I think they all admire the play as much as I do.”
Spradlin had the opportunity to speak with many of the cast regarding their thoughts about the play. “Come ready to laugh,” said Rachael Kline. “This show’s delightfully funny, especially if you’ve ever been a bridesmaid yourself!” Stephanie White, who will be working behind the scenes as choreographer and/or director of several area productions in the coming two years, said “I am just so thrilled to be acting again! I am working with a great cast of women. Oh, and we have a man in the cast, too.”
Maren Goff, who has not appeared on stage in an acting role for about 10 years, commented “It’s been a very fun challenge to jump back into things especially when playing a character who has such depth.” She added, “I think this show is a really honest representation of the way that women interact and bond with one another.” Lauren Wisely noted that “this play is really funny, and has been so fun to rehearse. These people are so amazing to work with.”
The lone male of the cast, Jesse Brutscher, was asked about the commitment amateur actors must make to participate in community theatre productions. Brutscher has been a regular in area productions for several years, with BCT roles in shows like ‘Spamalot,’ ‘The Seafarer,’ ‘Flowers for Algernon,’ and others.
“When I hear comments concerning a time constraint and/or the difficulty of memorizing lines and reciting them live on stage, I will say that I enjoy the challenge and rush of doing so,” he said. “It is a substantial commitment to put together a play as far as the amount of nights one might have to sacrifice, but the reward of seeing the final creation on stage is second to none. I also feel I make new close friends with each production I do as well; hence “community” theatre.”
When asked for a concluding comment, Sander added: “Only that I love and admire this play, and I hope that audiences, despite their unfamiliarity with the title, will take a chance and meet these very real, very human, and very funny characters.”
Tickets for ‘Five Women Wearing the Same Dress’ are available from the CLC Theatre Box Office at (218) 855-8199 or online at www.clcperformingarts.com
The production is sponsored by the Videography Department of Central Lakes College. The entire CLC Performing Arts Center season is made possible in part by an operating grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.