Love, Loss, and What I Wore
nytheatre.com review by Melanie N. Lee
October 2, 2009
They say clothes make the man, and apparently they can make or break the woman. As women are expected to become fashion plates or die trying, author/illustrator Ilene Beckerman has traced her personal history through the clothes she wore, from her Brownie uniform on up through the decades. Writer sisters Nora and Delia Ephron have adapted Beckerman's book for the stage, keeping the author's main character Gingy (pronounced JINN-jee), but adding clothing stories from the Ephrons' friends.
The resulting play, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, directed by Karen Carpenter (no relation to the late 1970s musician), premiered at the Westside Theatre as a hilarious and touching series of vignettes about women and girls, mothers and daughters, sisters and spouses, and the clothes that mark their lives.
An all-star line-up of actresses will rotate during the play's off-Broadway run. Advertised as The Vagina Monologues without the vaginas, the play opened with the cast of Tyne Daly as Gingy, Rosie O'Donnell often voicing the characters' mothers, Samantha Bee, Katie Finneran, and Natasha Lyonne. (Future players include Kristin Chenoweth, Mary Louise Wilson, Rhea Perlman, and Capathia Jenkins.)
Elegantly dressed in black, the five women sit in a row, scripts on their podiums. Gingy, stage right, displays a rack of drawings, huge reproductions of Beckerman's artwork. As the group's "elder stateswoman," Daly, though she stumbles on a few lines, conveys dignity and quiet leadership. The group's other anchor—and the occasional scene-stealer—is O'Donnell, spicing up the evening with her wry, sardonic delivery of some of the evening's funniest lines.
Gingy (Daly) begins with her mid-20th century Brownie uniform, and then launches into preteen arguments with Mom (O'Donnell) over dresses. After her mother dies, Gingy shops with her father, but soon goes to live with her grandmother, never to see her father again. The story gives way to other unrelated characters, including three sisters (Bee, Finneran, and Lyonne) who argue over one sister's involvement with a man. Circularly the story returns to Gingy and her illustrations; she even demonstrates to the audience "how to draw yourself."
One character remembers her stepmother's electric blue bathrobe, almost the same style as her late mother's pink one. Another tells of her college days when she proudly wore long boots and short skirts, until the night a man broke into her room and raped her.
On a lighter note, the women quip about outfits and accessories. Purses: "It's a choice between the strap and the handle; if you choose the handle, you immobilize half your arm." Clothing labels: "Once you wear Eileen Fisher, it's like you've said, 'I've given up.'" Bras: "No more walking around the house naked, no more sitting on Daddy's lap." Sleeveless turtlenecks: "Are you hot or cold? Make up your mind!" High heels: "My flats were almost as uncomfortable, and they didn't give the lift." Black clothing: "Nothing is the new black!"
Gingy comments on the lack of fashionable clothes for older women: "It's like I'm the Forgotten Woman. In fact, there once was a clothing chain called The Forgotten Woman. And now I'm her. And ironically, the store is out of business....And by the way, this [her black dress] is Eileen Fisher, so there!"
I've often thought how pathetic it is that society judges a woman's worth by the stylishness of her clothes. If Love, Loss, and What I Wore doesn't outright debunk that idea, it does present us with an affectionate, regretful, and nostalgic look at what we do to our clothing, and vice versa.