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Two years after her death, Nora Ephron continues to speak to women of a certain age like performance artist, author and social satirist Sandra Tsing Loh, who is part of the current revival of Love, Loss and What I Wore at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura through May 18.
Based on Ilene Beckerman’s 1995 book, the Nora and Delia Ephron play features humorous and often poignant monologues about various articles of clothing and the memories attached to them. JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist) and Rondi Reed (Mike and Molly) join a long list of actors in the new production, but Loh in particular is a perfect match for the material, having written distaff-centrist books with titles like Mother On Fire and her article “The Bitch is Back” for The Atlantic.
Up until her extramarital affair and subsequent divorce five years ago following twenty years of marriage, Loh had been a successful chronicler of mid-life mom-dom, offering observations with the same wit and irony Ephron exhibited in books like I Feel Bad About My Neck, a collection of thoughts on getting older, keeping up appearances and empty nest syndrome. Ephron has always been an inspiration to Loh and many others who were devastated when she succumbed to leukemia at the age of 71.
“It’s just a tragedy,” Loh tells The Hollywood Reporter. “She had many more decades to go. People really responded to I Feel Bad About My Neck. I loved that book before I started feeling bad about my neck.”
Performing in Love, Loss and What I Wore got Loh thinking about her own sense of style, which she refers to as “tool belt lesbian,” noting that friends buy her purses just to get her to drop her fanny pack. She remembers one dress she wore to a writers’ banquet that later looked like “Pocahontas gone wrong” in photographs, as well as the time she cut her hair to look like Demi Moore on a 1980s Vanity Fair cover and wound up resembling Billie Jean King. But the worst was when she styled her hair after the flowing curls Jane Seymour wore in Battlestar Galactica and ended up with an afro.
“I looked like a Taiwanese member of the Jackson Five,” she laughs before listing her own pieces of clothing that carry special meaning, including what she wore the day she fell in love with another man and told her husband they were divorcing after twenty years and two kids. It was a turning point in her personal life as well as a milestone in her career when she wrote about it in a 2009 article in The Atlantic called “The Case Against Marriage.” It polarized readers, with Slate.com calling her a “drag” and the Los Angeles Times calling the article “bloodless”.
“Biologically and scientifically we’re actually not wired for monogamy,” says Loh, who studied physics at Cal Tech before marrying her now ex-husband, a guitarist who toured twenty weeks a year in Bette Midler’s backup band. “In all of nature there’s only about ten species that are naturally monogamous and they’re like the angler fish and a type of worm where the mates are literally fused together to death.”
Loh’s father congratulated her on her divorce, but then again he’s been married four times. As a child, she remembers terrible fights between him and her mother, and never wondered why they slept in separate rooms at opposite ends of the house.
At 52, Loh hasn’t let the haters slow her down. She remains busy producing her public radio segments on KPCC, The Loh Down on Science and The Loh Life, and is preparing for next month’s launch of her latest book, The Mad Woman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones, a light-hearted and informative look at menopause. The Sundance Theatre Lab is producing it as a one-woman show that she will be workshopping at Joe’s Pub at New York’s Public Theatre, May 19, which is one reason she agreed to be in Love, Loss and What I Wore – to get Ephron’s rhythms running through her head as she rewrites and edits the new show.
“Her voice has always been really smart and funny,” says Loh, who never met Ephron but attended a memorial for her in which she and some friends read from her writings. “She addressed the real disappointments and miseries and ridiculousness of life but with a certain elegance and sly fun that always made being in Nora Ephron’s company on the page a really great place to be.”
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