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Five Women Wearing the Same Dress; Urinetown: The Musical 

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy
Through Aug. 19

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CURTIS BROWN

Somewhere between the sassy Southern gossip of Steel Magnolias' beauty queens and the frank sexuality of Carrie and her Sex and the City pals sits Alan Ball's 1993 off-Broadway production, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress. A mastermind of composing witty dialogue and situational comedies, Ball (who won an Oscar for his American Beauty script) clearly spent some time eavesdropping at the door of the ladies' room and absorbing all the woes of womanhood before penning his play.

Here, Ball unleashes those female moans and groans full throttle as five reluctant bridesmaids gather in an upstairs bedroom to avoid the wedding party below. Subsequently, a bitchfest ensues where each lovely lady recounts her problems with all things woman: cellulite, boob size, nagging mothers and, of course, men. Set in sunny Knoxville, Tenn., each woman boasts a honeyed voice and Southern drawl that is impeccably tuned for the performance and pairs nicely with the sugary sweetness of her peachy-pink chiffon dress.

But these women are not entirely sweet and accommodating: Instead they are naive, jaded, outcast, rebellious and heartbroken. It is these generalized characterizations of women that Florida director Kristen Coury (returning to the Kennedy after last year's polarizing Oleanna) and her stellar cast capitalize on. New York actresses Jennifer Lain Williams and Mary Guiteras play worn down older women: Trisha, a 30-something sexpot, has sworn off romance with men, while Georgeanne, an unhappily married woman, is searching for love and coming up with lust. Meanwhile, the play's younger women—Meredith (Athena Marie Reaves) and Frances (Emily Labelle)—are opposites: Frances is a tee-totaling Christian while Meredith is a free-spirited pot smoker and social activist. Finally, the bawdiest, most irreverent woman of them all is the groom's lesbian sister, Mindy (Kerry Ann Lambert).

Through the course of the play, these disparate women come to terms with past relationships, broken friendships and real-world issues such as AIDS and sexual abuse to arrive at new emotional outlooks. But this attempt at self-realization is a bit heavy-handed when most of the play's fun lies in the catty gossip, tales of sexual exploits and male-bashing. Still, with each bit of dialogue delivered as an epigram, the play is as wildly explosive and outrageously raunchy as a girls' night out or a high school slumber party. —Kathy Justice

Urinetown: The Musical
Raleigh Little Theatre
Through Aug. 26

The crowning achievement of Raleigh Little Theatre's production of Urinetown: The Musical is its unflagging playfulness. Filled with satirical dialogue, Urinetown's cleverness is a part of its fun. Set in a Gotham-esque town sometime after a fictional period known as "The Stink Years," the musical comedy offers audiences a poignant message using green topics and hilariously bleak realism. When faced with problems of limited resources, the ever-needy townspeople are forced by the greedy entrepreneurs at Urine Good Company to pay a fee for the essential act of peeing.

The play's intelligence arises, in part, from creators Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann's ability to maintain a thread of relevance amidst the stereotypes of moral alignment: a beautiful girl with a pure heart (Katherine Anderson), a greedy businessman (Scotty Cherryholmes) and an idealistic young man (Zach Morris). As a refreshing addition to the play's wit, Urinetown offers challenges to the conventional morality of musicals: The townspeople are rather bloodthirsty, and the awful tactics of Urine Good Company are revealed as a generally effective way to control the town's problems.

In addition to the inherent playfulness of the original script, Raleigh Little Theatre does a grand job of contributing its own subtle tricks and constant enthusiasm. When the rebellious townspeople don armbands and stand off against the greedy company, Urinetown's precocious ragamuffin Little Sally (Melissa Patterson) puts an armband on her stuffed rabbit doll and holds him high above the crowd in a righteous pose to face down the bad guys. The cast's vivacity reveals itself through their catchy dance numbers and hilarious subtleties—at one point Cherryholmes mimics a bull, charging the file folders in the hands of his employees, who are equally entertaining as they agilely prance in and out of the office.

The cast also does a nimble job with Urinetown's fetching and diverse musical score, the highlights of which were Rob Jenkins' "Cop Song" and Zach Morris' gospel-flecked tune "Run, Freedom, Run!"—both performers exhibited strong vocal talents and considerable pluck when faced with difficult compositions. A musical comedy presented by an enthusiastic cast, Urinetown is one you won't want to miss. —Megan Stein


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