Under the guise of Christianity

Wednesday, April 18, 2007
(Photo by Randy Cauthron) Karli Frerichs plays Frances in "Five Women Wearing The Same Dress." During the course of her cousin's wedding, her character's view of the world is tested and her "cheeky" side emerges.

By Kris Todd

Daily Reporter Staff

Frances is "a good Christian."

She's not only proper, ladylike and courteous, but the "sweet-faced" bridesmaid chooses not to participate in certain activities - taking illegal drugs, drinking alcohol or having premarital sex - because she is a devout Christian.

And, the 21-year-old Southern woman is more than willing to tell others so.

Karli Frerichs, who is slated to portray Frances in the SCT Playhouse's upcoming show "Five Women Wearing The Same Dress," can personally relate to certain aspects of her character, who is surrounded by four other bridesmaids, who through the sharing of their varied pasts raise awareness about topics such as abortion, lesbianism, sexual abuse, drug use and the sexual liberation of women.

"Karli does an amazingly good job of pulling off the good little Christian girl without it being demeaning in some way. We don't want it to appear that we're making fun of that," Barb Leistad said of the Spencer actress. "But, at the same time, because of her (Frances') upbringing, she's a little naive. She always means well. And, while Frances is appalled by some of the things that she's hearing, at the same time, she can't quite hear enough."

The production's assistant director continued, "(There are) a lot of funny, poignant moments in this, but it's not making fun of the issues. We want to address them and we want to try to make people think.

"We hear they remember the funny moments, but that isn't what's important necessarily. It's how these women handle the issues and how these are five very different, strong women - both on and off stage. They each have come to the table as very separate individuals, with issues of their own, but they come together in the end as a more cohesive unit."

Throughout the fictitious wedding reception, the five bridesmaids situate themselves in the bedroom of the bride's younger sister. While there, Frances, who serves as a sort of antithesis to the other characters because she's pure and a very sheltered individual, learns a few worldly lessons from her female bridal party peers.

During the bridesmaids' sharing of secret fancies, Frances acknowledges she has a crush on a younger male attending the wedding. But, the southern virginal belle also states that she believes a true Christian woman should marry an older man who is taller than her.

During the women's discourse, the stringent Christian also relays, "God wants you to be married if you have a baby." When asked by a fellow bridesmaid, "How do you know what God wants," Frances replies, "Because the Bible says so." This sparks a rather impassioned discussion and exchange of viewpoints between Frances and Trisha, the sexually-liberated bridesmaid played by Melisa Wallace, in which Trisha evenly states, "Listen, Frances, I wholeheartedly support your right to live your life however you see fit. But, you cannot exercise that right without extending the same courtesy to other people who might think differently than you do."

From this angle, Frerichs acknowledges a personal bond with her character.

"I can be Frances because I grew up in a very Christian environment. But, I was kicked out of school, a Christian school, because I was pregnant," she recalled. "And so, I've seen the good side of Christianity and I've seen the really ugly side of people."

The actress admits her character's most commonly declared phrase - "I'm a Christian. I don't do (fill in the blank)" - is something she's heard expressed throughout her lifetime.

"But, I also try to keep very much aware of the fact that at least 80 percent of the audience every night is going to be made up of self-proclaimed Christians. While all of these subjects make a lot of Christians nervous ... I want them to see how my reaction is to (these issues). I also want them to look inside and (question)," Frerichs said.

Frances' recognized phrase, as uttered by Frerichs, becomes "funny" as it is presented in the theatrical setting.

"Funny almost in a sad way in that all she can do is define herself by what she cannot do," Wendy Van Tassell, a co-pastor at Spencer's First Congregational Church, said. "And then you begin to wonder, 'So, what can you do? Who are you?' This tends to happen to us in any issue in life, whether we get caught being defined by what we aren't supposed to or are allowed to do vs. what are we unable to do by being who we are and being totally who we are."

"When you're a person of faith, I think there's a real value in thinking about how your faith intercepts with your life and enables you to live life to the fullest," added the SCT Playhouse performance committee member. "And, it doesn't mean that the theater is not condoning a certain way of Christianity or anything like that."

"Five Women Wearing The Same Dress" audience members, meanwhile, will be offered the chance to watch the innocent, sheltered bridesmaid evolve to the point where she decides it's OK to "lighten up" a bit and still remain true to who she is.

Frerichs, who describes her character as "genuinely nice, sweet and the consummate friend to all," explains, "I think with Frances being in the situation that she is in, she's realizing that her life has been pretty good. ... But, on the other hand, she's like, 'Why don't I know about these things? I'm 21 years old and I don't know any of this stuff.'"

* Showtimes of "Five Women Wearing The Same Dress" are 7:30 p.m. April 27-28 and May 4-5. Members of the general public may purchase tickets for the show beginning on Monday, April 23 by calling the Spencer Community Theatre box office at 262-7336. The community theater is located at 518 First Ave. E. in Spencer.

Due to the subject matter presented, this play is intended for mature audiences. Children under 17 will be admitted only when accompanied by a parent or guardian.

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