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According to “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” if there is one thing the females of the species have in common, it’s a deep and abiding love/hate relationship with their wardrobe. As life unfolds, one’s clothing and accessories expand to fill the needs of the moment, and as this wonderfully witty show illustrates, what one wears to the party is sometimes more memorable than the party itself.
Written for the stage by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron — the sisters rarely grim — by way of Ilene Beckerman’s book, five actresses present 28 intimate stories or story fragments concert-style, each a little gem of sparkling particularity and quirky playfulness. Gradually, a tapestry of the collective female psyche emerges that is tender and insightful without being sentimental. It’s a marvelous piece of writing, and the cast — Carol Kane, Rita Wilson, Natasha Lyonne, Tracee Ellis Ross, Caroline Aaron — could hardly be better. The first four also performed the piece off-Broadway, where it’s still running. Later in the run, other actors will fill the parts.
From bras, boots and bathrobes to prom dresses, gang sweaters and an irreplaceable shirt, the intimate vignettes fly by. The number of dresses to which we’re introduced, either in words or drawings, would fill two racks at Bloomingdale’s, but each has an important role to play. Mother-daughter, sister-sister and occasionally male-female relationships are examined, but the heart of the piece deals with female identity itself and how clothing and accessories are ways of expressing that identity. There’s a surprising resonance to the piece that very likely transcends gender, though only rarely have gender differences been made so clear.
The main character we follow is Gingy, vividly brought to life by Kane, who probably could animate a stone. We first meet Gingy as a little girl (Brownie dress) and then follow her story through numerous twists and turns as she learns, among many other things, that when it comes to sex, “Once you do something, you have to keep doing it.” Later, Gingy marries a man almost twice her age, divorces him at 21, marries again, has six kids, marries again and finally gets it right. As an older woman, she does a drawing of herself that is one of the evening’s highlights, and Kane’s charming artistry manages to result in a likeness close to herself.
This is only one highlight among many. There’s also Heather (Lyonne), who has to choose between high heels or “think,” and chooses “think.” Later, after some unfortunate experiences with Birkenstocks and her husband, she chooses high heels. There’s an amusing “I hate my purse” segment, a riff on the influence of Madonna and a dressing room chamber of anxiety right out of comic-strip neurotic Cathy. The bra stories are both funny and touching, and a piece about an unexpected period at a dinner party finds Wilson at her best. Ross is splendid as a Latina gang moll with a taste for insignias on sweaters and the guy who creates them.
This is a short evening, one act about 95 minutes, but every second is jam-packed and resonant. Director Jenny Sullivan has orchestrated the piece with precision and an unspoken poetry of affection.
Venue: Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, Westwood (Through July 4)
Cast: Carol Kane, Rita Wilson, Natasha Lyonne, Tracee Ellis Ross, Caroline Aaron
Playwrights: Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron
Based on the book by: Ilene Beckerman
Director: Jenny Sullivan
Lighting designer: Lap Chi Chu
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