Barrett Nash Grooms Her Comedy Skills as Funniest of CDT's Five Women

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Before being cast as Georgeanne in Contemporary Theatre of Dallas' current comedy hit, Alan Ball's Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, Dallas actress Barrett Nash had played a lot of angst-y teenagers. Looking a decade younger than her real age (27), Nash, a UT-Austin grad, had been a standout playing strung-out schoolgirls in a string of intense dramas at Upstart Productions, where she's a producer and founding company member.

Now Nash, daughter of Kitchen Dog Theater actor Barry Nash, is enjoying her breakout role as a strung-out grown-up in Alan Ball's ferociously bitchy play about five bridesmaids hiding out, drinking, gossiping and smoking pot at a splashy Southern wedding. It's Steel Magnolias without big hair or diabetic shock. It's an all-girl Love! Valor! Compassion! in poofy pink bridesmaid couture.

We wanted to know more about Nash, who gets the biggest laugh of the night in Five Women with the line "I think I might like to date Jesus." After her day job at the Lisa Bennett Salon, we caught up with her for a quick Q&A about growing up in a theater family and her progression from "Bard Bucket Child" at Shakespeare Dallas to one of Dallas theater's up-and-coming leading ladies.

You are so loose and hilarious in Five Women Wearing the Same Dress. Where did this explosion of comedy skill come from? I have made a name for myself playing crazy 16-year-olds. I get pigeonholed into those types of role. I look like a young ingénue and those are the roles I'm asked to read for. But this past year, I think I have been doing a lot of work on my acting. I'm in [WaterTower Theatre Artistic Director] Terry Martin's Meisner acting class now and I think it's made me more relaxed and given me more confidence in my ability as a performer. Being a performer is about being truly present. What's happening to you is really happening to you. You have to be relaxed in order to do that, and trust the person onstage you're with. And in this play I'm onstage with some amazing women. I was fearful of this role. The character is close to 30 and out of my comfort zone. But [director] Susan Sargeant had faith in me to deliver comedy in a way others haven't.

Talk about this cast. You're working in an almost all-woman production, right? This show has been an incredible experience. To be surrounded by actresses like Emily Scott Banks, Catherine DuBord, Catherine Wall and Heather Sims...I could not be more blessed to be given the opportunity by Sue Loncar [owner and founder of CTD] and Susan Sargeant. It has totally been a breakthrough experience for me as a performer and as an ensemble member to be in this show. Getting to do a show full of women, directed by a woman, stage managed and costume designed by women; props, set, all by women. There's a very different energy in the air.

How well do you think playwright Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, True Blood) captured the way women are with each other? It's a chick show. It's Sex & the City. It's a ball of laughs and you may cry a little, too. The script is really fun, incredibly fun to do. It may not be the most thought-provoking. It's not even Alan Ball's craziest work. This show is more about the relationships among the women and the growing that they do together. We leave every night in a great mood. You don't get that with every show. That is a true expression of the way we feel about the play.

Your dad, Barry Nash, is a longtime actor at Kitchen Dog and other Dallas theaters. Is acting the family business? I come from a long line of theater artists. My grandmother taught theater. My father and my aunt both have degrees in theater. My dad works here often and is a graduate of the Dallas Theater Center. I have been surrounded by art and music for my entire life. I have been acting onstage since I was 5 years old. I feel like I grew up with the smell of the theater. I was one of the original Bard Bucket children at the Dallas Shakespeare Fest, one of the kids who go into the audience to gather donations before the show. I loved doing that.

What's next for you after Five Women? I'm producing Steve Martin's play WASP for Upstart in the Festival of Independent Theatres this summer. It's my first time as a solo producer and I love seeing a show come together from start to finish.

Have any dream roles? Some roles I will never be able to play. I do think that the farther into my career I get, the more I can step out of the box of playing the angst-y 16-year-old. I would love to do some classical stuff. Lady Macbeth. Some Tennessee Williams. There are some contemporary writers I love, like Yasmina Reza [Art, God of Carnage]. The more experienced I become as a performer, I won't have to fit some aesthetic or character.

Please say you're staying in Dallas. After all, your dad's made a good career on Dallas stages. I have every intention to be here for a while. I hope with all of my heart and soul that the future of Dallas is to become a place where actors and designers and directors and artists can come and work, a place where they can do what they love and where a lot of us are available and able to support ourselves doing that. We get closer to that with every season. I could've made the trip to New York like so many people I graduated with and had to wait tables and been chorus girl No.2. But here I can do parts that are inspiring to me. I don't know why as an actor I'd want to be anywhere else.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress continues through July 10 at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. Box office, 214-828-0094.

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