Dispatch from the Martha Cohen Theatre: Undressed

For its final presentation, a world premiere presentation by Calgary playwright Louise Casemore UndressedATP took out the rows of seats and rearranged it into a cabaret, which created a nice nightclub vibe to the venue, which is an 1980s Alberta version of Shakespeare’s Globe.

The only catch with pandemic cabaret seating? No drinks. No snacks. Masks on!

Onstage at the Martha Cohen, there’s a pile of exquisite wedding dresses on mannequins, with a catwalk in front – and a gorgeous chandelier made of stockings hanging above.

This is not a wedding dress store. Nor is it behind the scenes at someone’s wedding.

In fact, we’re at an auction of lightly worn wedding dresses that have long outlived their outrageous prices and the equally inflated emotional expectations that weddings produce.

Casemore plays Claire, a highly professional auctioneer whose job it is to solicit the highest bid for each dress, for a company that donates half of the profits to a sustainability foundation, while recycling the dress into the community.

It also opens up some storage space and generally helps exorcise some emotional demons for many former wives, who Casemore says have been “tied up, dumped and traded” for someone new.

During the first 88 minutes of the 90 minute duration of Undressed, Claire leads the debates with lively efficiency. Above all, she is competent. She appreciates the emotional backstory behind each dress and actually incorporates it into the marketing: before accepting offers, she reads a letter from the first owner that describes what the dress meant to her, including one from a woman who heard so many gory stories from girlfriends about their unhappy marriages that she bought a wedding dress and never got married.

Each letter is a story of love and regret and how to move on – if Undressed was a Spotify list, it sure would be nothing but country and western tunes about regrets and how good things go wrong.

Casemore transforms into each character, bringing the letters to life and giving us uplifting insight into what that special day meant to each of them.

But Casemore doesn’t really travel that emotionally overworked side of the street too much in Undressedbecause Claire is there to get people excited about the product, to maximize the bids – and to be honest, the dresses are truly spectacular.

It’s both the charm and the loss of Undressedwhich is made with a sense of style and fulfillment and a touch of melancholy by Jenna Rodgers.

However, for too much of it there’s a sense of low stakes, even though the theme of the evening is quite poignant and resonant – and one of these dresses stays boxed, which we’re teased to understand is Claire’s dress.

All of this is multiplied by the fact that more and more dresses appear on stage, some thrown from the heights of the Martha Cohen Theater.

Once upon a time, in the 80s, it was raining men.

In Undressedit’s raining second-hand wedding dresses that we don’t know what to do with anymore, because for too many people, marriage is no longer a long-term affair.

Then, just when you think it’s about the dress, the tone changes drastically in the very last moments.

That’s when Undressed’s head meets his heart and he packs a big emotional punch at the last minute. It’s as if he arrived a little too late in the evening to really feel a connection with him.

About Carl Schroeder

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