Dallas — A widely shared description of feminism posits that women who choose to identify with the movement burn bras, date women who share a mutual, deep hatred of men, and are against anything effeminate. However, some of the strongest women I’ve had the privilege of knowing are aware that a new beautiful purse or a flattering, form-fitting dress can only add to them, not detract. Represented in five women on a stage, Love, Loss and What I Wore is a hilarious, punctuated look into clothing as a catapult, catalyst, and comfort for strong women.
The show is presented this weekend at the Wyly Theatre and is the final production in the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Off-Broadway on Flora Series. (The second season was just announced, here.)
The short memoir by Ilene Beckerman centers on Gingy (portrayed by Concetta Tomei), a girl who goes through several iconic outfits and moments starting in the ’30s. In Nora and Delia Ephron’s play adaptation, first staged off-Broadway in 2009, Gingy is an observer and sage mentor for the four other women (played by Daisy Eagan, Nancy Giles, Ashley Austin Morris and Eve Plumb, best known as Jan Brady in The Brady Bunch), ostensibly more modern and representing four points of a wide spectrum.
The five women made for a lovely motley crew. They were dressed in various cuts, styles and lengths of black dresses, accessories and shoes, a choice that plays perfectly into one of the final stories about how it is the most slimming color, serves as a reminder of style mavens like Audrey Hepburn, and makes for easier fashion choices.
They are seated on tall black chairs, with music stands in front of them. While other productions include actual clothing and accessories for the women to interact with, this left everything to Gingy’s drawings of her outfits, one bag used by Plumb in the “I Hate My Purse” story, the play and the performance of the women. They didn’t need material objects, as their differing comedic styles and delivery materialized the words for audience members.
When any of the women aren’t in a story, they listen attentively to their companions, often laughing. Giles’s laugh in particular encouraged audience engagement and attention.
The 28 stories include six from Gingy, a sprinkling of some with the other four women, and a handful with one to two characters. While a number of the stories are humorous musings on subjects ranging from first bra horror stories to Madonna and both iconic Hepburns, some of them comment on huge social roadblocks: weight struggles, rape, the difficulties associated with gay marriage, cancer, and strains in relationships. While initially disconcerting that the audience could laugh mere minutes after learning that one of Gingy’s children died at 18 months, the women engage with each of these issues full-on and somehow steer themselves through with hope and humor.
There is no weak link in this group, and as all of them have performed in previous productions of the show, their familiarity and comfort with the words are nearly tangible. Plumb and Giles seemed most at home in their roles, which called for multiple accents from both of them. Giles’s Indian veterinarian and her maternal roles for both Tomei and Eagan are humorous additions, and Plumb’s monotone delivery as Morris’s foreign counselor is a high point.
So, what role do clothes play?
Is this just a play about girls who hardly grow up, and add Nocona boots and Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses into their lives on whatever impulse they find? Especially in Gingy’s first story, it appears as though the work will be about a girl who goes from rags to riches and lives a privileged life free from hardship. Clothing is a fallback. Clothing is a memento. Clothing is a shoulder to cry on. Clothing is an emblem, of both our desired and actual status. Clothing is love. It is all this, and more.
The Ephron sisters said something to the effect that clothes don’t make the woman, but they do make the woman talk, and think, and believe, and love. And they sure do tell stories worth listening to, and learning from.