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Five Women bond and bitch in Footlights' latest

Dress Code Red

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It's a nice day for a WASP wedding in Knoxville, Tenn., where Tracy is marrying Scott. While the perfect bride works the crowd in her unforgettable gown, her bridesmaids do all they can to avoid the reception. Instead, they retreat to Tracy's old bedroom, now occupied by her rebellious sister Meredith (played by Carole Moore).

The five women discuss who will catch the bouquet or will get to throw a bag of rice at the sickeningly happy couple. They get drunk, smoke dope, talk about boys, and have as good a time as possible, considering the high-pressure circumstances and their outlandish dresses.

An atmosphere of fun runs through most of this show. The relationships between the women are organic and believable. Playwright Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, American Beauty) incorporates some more serious themes along with the crackling one-liners that feel in-character rather than tacked on. The champagne-chugging Georgeanne (Andrea K. McGinn) is married to a man who she recognizes is a big piece of wet toast.

We never see wedding guest Tommy Valentine, but we hear a lot about him. He's a lothario who has touched the lives and broken the hearts of more than one bridesmaid in his time. He's even made passes at Frances (Darielle Deigan), a staunch Christian, and Mindy (Adrianne Dukes), a lesbian who's enjoying her shock value at the society event.

The girls have different ways of dealing with his presence. Georgeanne gets so drunk she can barely stand, Mindy discusses him with innocent amazement, Trisha compares him unfavorably to a hunky lifeguard, and Meredith weeps as she recalls her love for him.

Apart from men and their flaws, topics range from throwing up to body parts (Mindy likes hooters). The play's greatest strength is its slumber party feel of five girls getting together to bitch, barf, and strengthen their friendships. All the actors help to make this work.

As the eldest bridesmaid, Jennifer Metts gives a particularly natural and likeable performance, even though her character Trisha is a total tart who's slept with half the men at the wedding — including Tommy Valentine. Dukes and McGinn both have priceless facial expressions, with McGinn earning the highest laugh-per-line ratio in the show. In the second act, Antonio Nappo plays Tripp, an usher who takes a shine to Trisha. Nappo has done good work in the past, but like Deigan, he just isn't as relaxed or natural as the other actors. Nappo and Deigan both need to loosen up or find a more suitable staid, old-fashioned play to work on.

Not that Five Women is completely up-to-date. Although most of the characters are young, there are references to Vietnam and '60s TV shows Mission: Impossible and The Man From UNCLE. The lesbian character is intended to be shocking, and the ridicule of Frances' Christianity is regarded as something new. At the 1993 premiere these elements were old hat even then. Now the play seems out of date, neither '90s nor 21st century. But veteran director Catherine Shroka makes the weak points work by emphasizing the camaraderie and creating some strong stage images as the girls gather together at the foot of Meredith's bed.

The F-bombs dropped on a regular basis make this edgy fare for the Footlights, but Shroka's main aim is to make her audience laugh. In this regard, she's always on target.

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