The Rapidian

Dog Story Theater's "Dress Your Wives" uses comical characters to show humor within tension

Directed and written by former Aquinas student Christopher Vander Ark, this play shows the complexities in a married household of seven, especially when it comes to control.
Warren Smith's sister wives

Warren Smith's sister wives

Dress Your Wives in Floor Length Denim set

Dress Your Wives in Floor Length Denim set

On November 1 and 3, the Dog Story Theatre premiered the play, Dress Your Wives in Floor Length Denim. Dog Story Theater provided an intimate stage with limited seating that forces the audience to get up close and personal to the plot and actors. The personal feel that the stage provides, giving off the vibes of a close friend's living room, made for a better connection between the audience and the play. Especially so for a play so heavily based on character dynamics. 

The play, which was written and directed by Christoper Vander Ark, is the first in a series of 12 plays titled The Zodiac Series. Each play of the series showcases a heroine that depicts a different sign of the Zodiac. This play, which was the representation of Aries, tells the story of a patriarchal, polygamist family of seven. It focuses on the developing, changing and deteriorating relationships between Warren Smith II and his six sister wives. 

"The play isn't really about polygamy. I think polygamy is just a good backdrop to work as a metaphor for marriage and gender relations in general," says Vander Ark, "it's definitely a play about characters; how they relate to each other and how, essentially, they destroy each other."

Warren Smith II is married to six women: Winona, Nadine, Effie, Henrietta, Chivonn and Lillian. Winona, the first to marry Warren, is the most stubborn of the wives. Winona works hard to keep her household consistent. Although it’s not perfect, she wants their family to stay the way it is. Nadine is the wife promoting the change that Winona so stubbornly wants to stop. A hard-headed and ambitious Aries, Nadine believes that if her husband can have six wives, she can have two husbands The strides she takes to find equality within polygamy cause new, and eventually toxic, dynamics among the Smith family. The three wives that break up the tension with their comic relief are bible thumping Henrietta, diva Chivonn and flighty Effie. 

Vander Ark's claim that this is more a play about characters is strongly supported. The characters were the strongest part of the play. Along with the play's balanced sarcasm, the fully elaborated characters were really what stuck with me at the end. Each character was thoroughly developed and consistently acted out down to the little details, such as the whimsical Effie constantly pulling food out of her bra or sassy Chivonn's attitude-stricken facial expressions, even when in the background of the action. 

Although they all seemingly played the same role of a sister wife, Vander Ark created very unique, believable and identifiable personalities among all of them, which strengthened not only the sarcastic humor but also the flow of the plot. 

The last wife brought in was the racy and young Lillian, or 'Lillian Lily Lovely.' She served to be the wrench that Warren Smith was throwing into the mess that his protesting wife was causing. She was holding off sex, so he brought in a new promiscuous wife as a rebuttal. While adding a lot of humor to the play, at times her character also added inconsistency. Her role was the young, naiive, jersey-shore-like female who seemed to be living in a much more modern world than her other opressed sister wives. The references to social media or going to the mall, at times caused the setting or context to be confusing and took away from the plot. 

The plot proved to be extremely unpredictable: the whole time it had me guessing what would happen next and how it would wrap up. In a play about the struggle for equality and control, the plot keeps the antagonist and protagonist changing throughout the play, which kept me intrigued until the end.

"It becomes about the struggle for equality and who is really the one standing in your way," says Mackenzie Moira McElroy, who plays the role of Nadine, "A lot of times it isn't who you think it is." 

This production of "Dress Your Wives in Floor Length Denim," addresses the everyday complexity of relationships in the non-everyday context of polygamy. The plot demands the audience's attention, with the intensity as well as the close proximity of the stage, but also breaks up the grave topic with a lot of wit and sarcasm. With a topic as commonly approached as dynamics between individuals, people of all different walks can find something to take away from this play. 

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