The late Nora Ephron said in an interview once, “What you wear and what happened to you are indelibly connected.” The writer of such films as “Julie & Julia,” and “When Harry Met Sally.” For this, Ephron worked with her sister and frequent collaborator Delia Ephron (also a novelist in her own right) to fashion a play from Illene Beckerman’s memoir about that tight bond between women and their wardrobe.
I use the word ‘play,’ although it is a loose use of the term. Love, Loss and What I Wore is really a series of monologues, interrupted by choral collages on varying topics such as motherly advice, the brassiere, and other aspects of the feminine mystique.
When Love, Loss and What I Wore first appeared Off-Broadway and on its subsequent tour, the performers sat, reader’s theatre style, interpreting the material from bound manuscripts. Think Love Letters without the pesky man to chime in. Just the girls, reminiscing about relationships, human nature, growing up, aging and fashion – always fashion.
NextStop Theatre Company in Herndon, VA is not satisfied with the reader’s theatre approach to the material and for that we can be thankful. Director Lorraine Magee has turned the page-turner into real theatre, with her six member cast of fantastic actresses fully embodying the multi-generational characters in a revue-like setting. The intimate NextStop space is set up like a cabaret, complete with little bistro tables surrounding a central stage, which is punctuated by a hot pink setee. Facing the stage on either end, projection screens display a panoply of images from fashion icons to the very personal aspects of the stories that unfold like a comfortable, old sweater.
The fashion parade on display serves as the jumping off point for the memory-laden monologues by a range of characters. Gingy – sort of a central character if there is one – kicks things off recalling her Brownie uniform as a girl. Gingy’s journey of remembrance through her closet and through the people in her life serves as a throughline of the piece. Marilyn Bennett embodies Gingy’s pride and heartfelt stories with ease. She connects key items of clothing and outfits to the major moments in her life – marriage, divorce, career changes, and getting older. When Bennett talks about what time has done to her body, there is knowing recognition from the audience. “My neck – oh, God! – my neck. I wind scarves around it and some days I look like Katherine Hepburn in “On Golden Pond.” As a fallback, I used to show a little cleavage, but now my cleavage looks like a peach pit.” Getting old might be a bitch, but at least you can wear something nice to make yourself feel better.
The stories of many other women intertwine with Gingy’s – mothers, daughters, best friends. Bennett is joined by a game ensemble of ladies who easily move from character to character and handle the mixture of pathos and comedy with style. Shaina Murphy, among her roles, is Lynn who recounts am unlikely story of romance and success, and Eve, a woman cursed with being thin. Vivian Allvin is memorable as Heather, a young lady who trades stylish high heels for the more utilitarian Birkenstocks. (“These are my feet – we all have them, OK?”)
As Nancy, a woman talking about growing up way too fast, and Annie, with her tale of a paper dress (remember those?), Tamieka Chavis does a fine job. Likewise, Sarah Holt gives a winning performance throughout the evening, especially as the stand-in for Nora Ephron herself in the hilarious monologue, based on an essay, “I Hate My Purse.” Holt’s wry and dry delivery of the diatribe against every woman’s catch all is priceless. “This is for those of you who understand, in short, that your purse is – in some absolutely horrible way – you,” collecting the debris of a lifetime in a flash. “Your purse is a big dark hole filled with stuff you spend hours fishing around for.”
LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE
Must close March 7
This show has sold out. Standby tickets may be available.
2 hours with 1 intermission
at Industrial Strength Theatre
269 Sunset Business Park
Thursdays thru Sundays
Rounding out the cast of Love, Loss and What I Wore is another skilled and versatile actress, Jaclyn Young. Like the other members of the ensemble, Young switches roles from nattering mothers to little sisters. But it is in the penultimate story where Young is able to truly shine. She plays Geralyn, a young lady who finds out she has breast cancer. Young makes Geralyn’s painful story personal and it is easy to share the terror and triumph of her diagnosis and how she copes with her situation.
And really, that’s the power of Love, Loss and What I Wore: personal stories, delivered simply. Director Magee’s eye for detail and the poignancy and humor of the material is clear and her cast is up to the task to elevate the material into a satisfying night of theatre. The only trouble is, like Nora’s purse, each performance is full. If you want a ticket to this sold out show, you can go on NextStop’s waiting list.
Love, Loss and What I Wore by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron . Based on the book by Ilene Beckerman . Director: Lorraine Magee . Featuring Marilyn Bennett, Shaina Murphy, Tamieka Davis, Sarah Holt, Vivian Allvin, Jaclyn Young . Scenic Design: Evan Hoffman and Joan Lada . Sound Design: Eric Kritzler . Lighting Design: Annmarie Castrigno . Costume Designer: Kristina Martin . Technical Director: Jon Harvey . Animation: Michael Sherman . Stage Manager: Joan Lada . Produced by NextStop Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jeffrey Walker.
What were you wearing for your most memorable event?