Love, Loss, and What I Wore: Going Beyond the Frivolity of Fashion

In Los Angeles Theatre on June 18, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Nora and Delia Ephron’s newest play Love, Loss, and What I Wore has been on my theatrical wish list since it opened in New York last November. The wit of the Ephron sisters plus the topic of clothing is a no-fail equation in my mind, not to mention the rotating, five-woman cast of renowned talent. But as it so often happens, time escaped me and I never got a chance to see it before heading home to LA for the summer.

Yet all hope was not lost.

By the work of some divine coincidence, my mom sent me an email asking me if I wanted to see a show that had piqued her interest.  Lo and behold, Love, Loss and What I Wore had followed me home, setting up shop at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Needless to say, I responded with a paragraph of exclamation points.

About a month later with tickets in hand, we entered the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre, a quaint refuge within the larger playhouse. Our back row seats were only twenty-five feet from the stage, providing a sense of intimacy with the actors that was enhanced by the modest set—five chairs, five music stands, and a clothing rack of foam-board posters toting sketches of various outfits. With this reading-style staging, the actors were freed from constant character commitment, which allowed them to establish a playful relationship with the audience and create a more direct, personal connection.

Based on the book by Ilene Beckerman, the play reflects on the relationship between women’s life experiences and the wardrobe that saw them through. The show is comprised of a series of monologues and group sequences that personify the female clothing experience—from that favorite childhood dress to the love/hate relationship with heels (oh, what women will suffer for killer legs).  The stories capture that mystical ability for clothing to preserve memories and emotions, like time capsules of defining moments in our lives.  Though every woman endures different experiences, we all have our personal, symbolic pieces of clothing. Throughout the monologues, remarks of shared experience peppered the audience.  Reminiscent sighs, groans of re-lived horror, and guilty chuckles over fashion crimes committed evidenced a collective understanding. It felt like every woman in that theatre had some secret, intrinsic connection rooted in the female experience.

The vibrant cast included Rhea Pearlman and her daughter Lucy DeVito (both of whom performed in the Off-Broadway version), as well as Nancy Travis, Conchata Ferrell, and Justina Machado.  They sat in chairs with their scripts on music stands, dynamically diving in and out of characters as needed.  Though some deliveries seemed a bit over-the-top, as though trying to compensate for the simplistic staging, I appreciated their commitment to bringing the moment to life.  Unexpected laughs, goofs, and gaffes were all part of the fun, which suited the attitude of the play; it felt more like a girls’ get-together than a formal “thee-eh-tuh” performance. But despite the relaxed atmosphere, the actors maintained a level of professionalism that elevated it from an amateur reading to legitimate theatre.  The cast was always engaged with what was happening on stage, and they listened to each other’s monologues with a genuine presence. The show was a perfect combination of casual comfort and sophisticated elegance.

Leaving the theatre, my mom and I began reflecting on the pieces that roadmap our own lives. I will never give up the raincoat that my grandmother bought for me: unabashedly synthetic fabric collaged with black-and-white photos of Golden Age movie stars. To me, it was the epitome of glamour (and still is). Though squeezing into it now would obliterate my circulation, it holds a permanent place in my wardrobe. It embodies the memory of my grandmother—afternoons at Bullock’s, the cloying sweetness of See’s lollipops, the overflowing love of an extraordinary survivor and my guardian angel.  As I cue the Kleenex I’m laughing to myself a bit. Who knew a play about something as superficial as clothing could end up being so profound?

Love, Loss, and What I Wore is running at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre at the Geffen Playhouse until August 1.  The current cast performs until July 3.  For tickets call 310-208-5454


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