“I don’t understand why any woman would love to wear the same dress to anything.”
Kristin Skye Hoffmann, the new artistic director at the Durango Arts Center Theatre, bluntly admits that her first show is a period piece.
“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress,” by American playwright Alan Ball, 60, takes that as a premise. The dark comedy, which opened off Broadway on Feb. 13, 1993, assumes that once-upon-a-time, American bridesmaids would not only wear the same dress to a wedding but relish a collective spotlight.
The DAC production will open March 2 and run two weekends, with one matinee March 11, and one performance, March 7, dedicated as a fundraiser for the Women’s Resource Center.
“Now that we’re well into the #MeToo movement, matching bridesmaid dresses seems far away,” Hoffmann said in an interview earlier this week.
And it is, because this was Ball’s first play and it illuminates where one slice of white American privilege was in the ’90s.
“It’s very much a period piece,” Hoffmann said. “In the mid ’90s, five bridesmaids talk about sex, drugs, love and friendship. It’s a big reminder of what weddings meant to people. We never meet the bride, Tracy, and no one likes her. That means something. At the time, the play was groundbreaking.”
Although the play had been selected before Hoffmann was hired to replace Theresa Carson, Hoffmann admits to being a fan of Ball’s work.
Ball won an Oscar for his screenplay of the 2000 film “American Beauty,” a “movie that meant a lot to me,” Hoffmann said. “It’s about expectations, about what success is, about being true to one’s feelings and what we think someone else is by what they project.”
Beyond Ball’s early plays and other television series like “True Blood” or the current “Here and Now,” which premiered last week on HBO, Hoffmann said she admired “his long-form storytelling in ‘Six Feet Under.’ That’s in my top-five, all-time television show favorites. His characters and his dialogues shine.”
For “Five Women,” Hoffmann has cast six area actors in the roles of the bridesmaids plus the one man in the play, an usher.
“We had about 20 people audition for the show, and I could have easily double-cast this show,” Hoffmann said. “There is so much talent in Durango.
“This is an ensemble piece, and that creates a certain dynamic which I like.”
Hoffmann has cast Melissa Cheffers as Frances, Jenny Fitz Reynolds as Mindy, Tuesday Autumn Spear as Georgeanne, Erin Natseway as Meredith, Jessica Fairchild as Trisha, and Brian Devine as Tripp.
“I’m not a pre-caster,” Hoffmann said. “Everyone has to work for a role. And we start the process with a lot of table work, breaking down what’s happening and why with questions about language or why someone repeats a line.”
Hoffmann and her creative team are making sure everything is set in the ’90s, so no one will forget this is a period piece. “There won’t be any cellphones.”
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.