by Gail M. Burns
Do you wear clothes? Then you will love Love, Loss, and What I Wore currently at The Whit in a sleek and smart production by Town Players. You will adore this show if you identify as a woman, but you will like it just as well if you identify as a man and clothing is important to you. I saw this production on Father’s Day, and it brought back happy memories of my father, a straight, cisgender man who just LOVED clothing.
Clothes not only cover our bodies, they change our souls. And if you are a person who cares about clothing, you can remember EXACTLY what you wore on both significant and insignificant occasions in your life. Wedding and prom outfits are always memorable, but other ensembles stick in the memory just because. The day I fell in love with the theatre I was wearing a bright yellow mini-dress (really just a long vest) over a purple blouse and matching purple tights with yellow platform shoes with six inch heels (making me 6’ 4”.) Can you tell it was 1972?
I adored Ilene Beckerman’s little illustrated book of the same title when it was published in 1995, and still have my copy, but this was my first encounter with the stage version, adapted by Nora and Delia Ephron. I am sure it will have a long and happy life because has an all-female cast, virtually no set, and can be performed as reader’s theatre or, as here as a fully staged production with memorized lines. Ideal for community theatre and for professional theatres who can bring in a rotating cast of “stars” with little rehearsal necessary.
Director Melanie Rivers has assembled a fine cast. Laura Gardner plays Gingy, the only through character, who speaks most of Beckerman’s prose accompanied by poster-sized renditions of the author’s enchanting drawings, which are meticulously circulated along a clothes rack by prop manager Sam Therrien. Gingy’s wardrobe, and her memories of her mother and grandmother’s clothes, lead her through several boyfriends, husbands, children, and grandchildren. Gardner is warm and amusing, bringing a light touch to her trip down memory lane.
Aside from Gingy’s story, the rest of the script is appropriately attributed to the Ephron sisters. Nora Ephron wrote the introduction to Beckerman’s book, and she immediately became interested in creating her own version. Once she had decided to collaborate on the project with her sister Delia, they corresponded with more than one hundred women gathering stories. So you hear many different voices over the course of the play.
The rest of the cast – Diedre Bollinger, Jackie DeGiorgis, Lara Denmark, and Nancy Schaffer – provide those voices, presenting solo piece and speaking in chorus about the challenges of being a woman working to establish and communicate identity through clothing, and accessories – handbags do not get off lightly but shoes…well shoes are a whole ‘nother play! Not all of the stories are happy ones, although clothing is never a such a serious topic that it doesn’t warrant a few laughs, even in pieces with serious subjects such as rape and mastectomy.
DeGiorgis and Bollinger, the more seasoned actresses in the cast, handle those two topics with aplomb. When our bodies are violated or mutilated or undergo any radical change, that changes our relationship to them and thus to how we choose to present them. I love clothing but for the first two years after I gave birth to my first child I had no idea what I wanted to wear or even what colors I liked.
While Denmark and Schaffer have less stage experience, they are lively actresses who make a strong showing in their monologues.
In order to help us focus on the clothing we are being asked to imagine, the cast is dressed entirely in black, although each actress wears her own individual style. Even in conformity there is individuality and there is no such thing as “basic black.”
The cast represents a variety of ages and body types, but they are all white women, telling the stories of white women. You could, of course, cast women of color but I don’t think it would ring true. Different cultures have very different attitudes surrounding clothing and body image and where those two topics intersect. I would be very interested to see or read a work by a woman of color, or women of colors, on this same topic, because I am sure it would be just as wonderful and very different.
I was delighted that the house was packed (and thankfully air conditioned) for last Sunday’s matinee and I recommend you book tickets NOW as The Whit is a small venue and there are only three more performances. I promise you that you will find many moments to connect with in this thoughtfully crafted play.
The Town Players of Pittsfield present Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Nora and Delia Ephron, directed by Melanie Rivers, June 16-18 & 23-25, 2017, at the Whitney Center for the Arts, 42 Wendell Avenue in Pittsfield, MA. Set Construction: Ryan Cavanaugh. Sound Design/operation: John Fletcher. Light Operators: Douglas MacDonald and Kathryn Bellizzi. Prop Manager: Sam Therrien. Cast: Diedre Bollinger, Jackie DeGiorgis, Lara Denmark, Laura Gardner as Gingy, and Nancy Schaffer. Call 413-443-9279 for tickets.