Dallas — It was never supposed to be a book, Love, Loss and What I Wore. According to author Ilene Beckerman, these were simply random musings that might never have happened had she not, on one sleepless night, started remembering articles of clothing from her youth. It came as a surprise to her that her memory of events was through what she was wearing at the time.
Fueled by the realization that she could tell her life story through her clothing, Beckerman created cartoon-like drawings, or as she describes them, doodles, of each garment she recalled. Above each drawing she entered a brief note describing the memory attached. She then compiled the drawings and stories and gave them to her children as proof that she actually had a life before them. She also made a few copies for close friends but that was it. Were it not for a friend that contacted a publisher about the compilation, Beckerman might never have realized she had actually created a book, and one that women would want to read.
After Delia and Nora Ephron decided to adapt the book for the stage, they contacted more than 100 women and asked for their clothing-triggered recollections. The Ephrons selected from Beckerman’s stories and the stories of the 100 women, and interjected them with some of their own stories and those of their friends, thus creating the play. Love, Loss and What I Wore opened Off-Broadway in 2009.
Michael Serrecchia directs the season-opening production of Love, Loss and What I Wore for Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. He has assembled a lively ensemble of six women that deliver the stories in rotation: Marisa Diotalevi, Ellen Locy, Grace Loncar, Arianna Movassagh, Lorna Woodford, and on opening night, Sue Loncar (who is in it for the first three weekends, and then Cindee Mayfield takes this part). This is a good script comprised of monologues and ensemble pieces that cover an array of experiences from the purchase of one’s first bra to the dilemma of buying a purse.
Gingy (Diatolevi) is the one character with a definite name that is carried throughout the play. This is primarily because Gingy is the narrator of the piece, but also because Gingy represents the author Beckerman, which means she has her own stories to tell as well. This play is a compilation of stories that are told with humor, but it is not a comedy. A master of comic timing, Diatolevi understands the distinction, and the dual tasks of her character. Her Gingy is wittily commanding and provides the connective tissue for the disparate stories.
One of the best written and most anticipated monologues of the play is an essay by Nora Ephron about her thing with purses. It is a brilliant piece of writing about a problem understood by most women, that of figuring out how best to carry our stuff. This moment should have potency.
Here’s the thing about plays set as series of monologues—there is the risk of delivering the monologues as if they were alone and detached (as when one is auditioning) rather than as individual nuggets within the same brooch. The purse monologue (delivered by Locy) tips more toward an audition piece. Conversely, Movassagh’s monologues crackle with energy. She slips into them with the comfort and familiarity of favorite shoes. Authenticity. There is no substitute for it.
Serrecchia has placed the storytelling within an artistic environment inspired by the artist, Christo, and his wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin in 1995. For Christo, wrapping environments is not about the wrapping itself, rather it is about the fragile, temporal and sensory aspects of the fabric. Having observed the wrapping of the Reichstag, Serrecchia recognizes a connection between Christo’s artistic expression and the wrapping of women in our emotions through the fabric of our clothing. Associating this play with the art of Christo demonstrates a conceptual sophistication that is sensorial.
Having said that, while it is not the Reichstag, the wrapping of this CTD set could not have been a simple task. Alan McAngus’ set wrapping crew achieved exquisite draping and folds with fabric that was not necessarily intended for that function. The scenic elements and set pieces are wrapped in luscious fabric that while affixed to the objects, changes constantly in response to the lighting. This set design is much more interesting than the staged reading format often employed for this play (chairs lined in a horizontal row across the stage behind a table.)
Contemporary Theatre of Dallas’ season is off to a good start with this production. About this work, Nora Ephron said “My mother wanted us to understand that the tragedies of your life one day have the potential to be the comic stories the next.” She was right.