Love, Loss, And What I Wore
A theater review by Jeffrey F. Barken
The stage lights go out, leaving five women seated on tall chairs. In the dark, they ponder life’s twists, turns and echoing memories. When the lights return, a new subject is broached: “My First Bra!” the actresses spring from their chairs and declare simultaneously. Throughout the racy sequence, cheeks blush, eyes glint, and breasts are squeezed. The women each deliver anecdotal monologues revealing embarrassing dressing room secrets and hopelessly eccentric personalities that have been either expressed or suppressed by life’s endless search for the perfect mood and figure-fitting garments.
Opening on November 9th, 2012, at the Fells Point Corner Theatre, Director Steven Goldklang’s version of, “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” a scrapbook play by sisters Nora and Delia Ephron that is based on the book by Ilene Beckerman, treats audiences to a rare and often comical glimpse into women’s psyches.
The show stars Helenmary Ball as “Gingy,” a once reckless redhead, whose early twenties saw her married, divorced, then pregnant. Now a gray-haired grandmother, Gingy still retains her youthful sense of humor. Seated stage right, she tells her grandchildren of her experiences by drawing pictures of the clothes that marked her triumphs and failures. Delivered in a New York, Jewish accent, Gingy also recalls her mother’s fateful warnings about men, prompting the other women on stage to chime in with their own hilarious and moving memories.
Co-stars Andrea Bush, Beverly Shannon, Anne Shoemaker, and Kate McKenna take turns playing competitive sisters, mothers, grandmothers, doctors, shrinks, rape victims, lesbians, and everything in between. They debate qualities sought in men, strategize how to catch the man of their dreams, and sometimes are plain silly; Gingy rudely calls down to a passing, balding-male pedestrian from her perch on the fire escape, “hey baldy!”
Nearly thirty different characters are represented, and Goldklang meticulously choreographed the monologues so that the actresses’ expressions and stage movements not only play off each other’s cynicism and brash remarks, but also evoke the underlying sympathy women have for each other, living in a male-dominated world.
Enter Madonna, whose music, iconic “phases” of self-discovery, and memorable fashion statements have broken down barriers and rendered her an idol to every character on stage. In one rich display, the women, representing several generations of the American female experience, approach the audience, dancing to “Vogue,” and demonstrating how every woman can find her character and personality emboldened by the pop-diva’s daring lyrics and free-love attitude.
The past century is marked by strides and setbacks in the women’s rights movement. “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” encapsulates the collective experience of women who have fought to express themselves, but it also pokes fun at their digressions. Shockingly, changing moods and life circumstances repeatedly complicate the lives of the women on stage, demonstrating how no wealth of clothing, shoes, jewelry or accessories could ever be sufficient to convey the full realm of feminine identity.
For a show about clothing, Goldklang misses an opportunity to dazzle audiences with fashionable costumes, dressing the actresses instead in black. Nevertheless, Gingy’s colorful drawings effectively weave together character identities and narratives with the historical trends that defined the last sixty years in women’s fashion. From alternating perspectives, audiences learn how long, flowery, hippy-dresses were the obvious solution to repressive schoolgirl “outfits” in the sixties. Mother’s are saddened when daughters reject their thoughtful clothing gifts. Sadly, a pantsuit offers the sensible alternative to a dress for a woman grieving the loss of her 18-month old child as she returns to work.
The result is a brilliant and introspective exploration of female experiences in the post war and modern era. According to Gingy, there is a garment for every occasion, and the memories of what women wear is the key to understanding their pasts and essential personalities. The show is slated to run through December 9th, and is guaranteed to please audiences with many laugh out loud moments. Mark what you wear to the theatre. Goldklang’s cast might not leave an enduring fashion statement on the stage, but they certainly make a convincing and powerful presentation of the feminine thoughts and voices that echo in dressing rooms and at social gatherings across the country, wherever clothes have been chosen meticulously for an occasion, never to be forgotten.