‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’ opens Friday
A date on the calendar. An unusual smell. A certain song. Unexpected things can unlock memories and cause us to revisit forgotten emotions; but nowhere in a woman’s life are those memories more concentrated than in her closet.
At least, that’s the premise of the production set to open next weekend at the South Jackson Civic Center as a part of the South Jackson Civic Association Theatre Series.
“Love, Loss and What I Wore,” written by sisters Delia and the late Nora Ephron, traces the female experience through the lens of relatable, everyday wardrobe choices and takes those stories to the stage.
“It’s women’s stories about important things that were happening to them and what they were wearing at the time,” said the play’s director, Emily Seal. “It’s based on a book by Ilene Beckerman who sat down and drew pictures of things she was wearing when important things happened to her.”
In Beckerman’s 1995 memoir, she tells the story of her life through bright illustrations of the clothes she wore – from her Brownie uniform to the sexy, strapless number that nearly got her into trouble.
Though the book was a runaway bestseller, Beckerman has said it was never meant for publication. Her random musings were written, instead, as a series of proofs to her children that she had had a life before them. It was only after she made copies for a few close friends and one contacted a publisher that the 60-year-old former advertising executive saw her first book published. It wasn’t her last. “Love, Loss and What I Wore” is now one of five Beckerman – aka “Gingy” – has published.
The Ephron play of the same name builds on the foundation of Beckerman’s book.
When Nora Ephron (“When Harry Met Sally,” “Julie & Julia”) first saw the manuscript, sent from Beckerman’s publisher, she thought the autobiographical device of telling your life story through your wardrobe was a brilliant one. By calling to mind parallel stories of our own, she believed, stories like these are as much about the listener as they are the storyteller. Nora optioned the book immediately.
Alongside her sister Delia (“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”), with whom she had co-written “Sleepless in Seattle,” Nora then began interviewing friends and friends-of-friends to gather additional stories to shape into a play.
“If you ask women about their clothes, they tell you about their lives,” Delia wrote in her memoir “Sister Mother Husband Dog.” And that’s just what the Epron sisters did.
There were no shortage of stories – more than 100 women contributed their recollections for consideration – but the play did not come together quickly or easily. It would be 14 years – during which time the Ephrons would write and release “You’ve Got Mail” and “Bewitched” – before “Love, Loss and What I Wore” finally opened off-Broadway in 2009.
“I’ve been a huge fan of Nora Ephron since, oh, forever; so when I saw this play being advertised off-Broadway, I immediately went and bought a copy,” Emily Seal said. “Here it is, quite a few years later, and I’m finally getting to direct it.”
But Seal’s love of Nora Ephron wasn’t her only attraction to this play, the first of three Ephron has written.
“The reason that I chose this story is that my mother (Teresa Brown) has stage four breast cancer,” she said. Breast cancer is a recurring theme in the play, “so that was part of the reason this story is important to me right now.”
Though that storyline is deeply personal to Seal, it’s far from the only mother-daughter theme of the play. Quite a few of the stories about clothes are also stories about mothers: daughters recall the items mom knitted for them, the clothes mom hated on them, and the things mom told them never to wear.
They also recall the things they wore anyway.
Stories with a Spine
As written, “Love, Loss and What I Wore” is organized as a series of monologues to be performed in rotation by a cast of five principal women. For the Tullahoma production, Seal has chosen a cast of nine.
“It gives it more energy to have more people,” she said. And nearly doubling the cast allows more opportunity for local women, from age 18 to retirement, to participate.
Anchoring the piece is “Gingy,” who serves as a stand-in for Beckerman.
“I’m playing Gingy, who’s kind of the narrator of the story,” said actor Doreen Shulz. “She starts out by looking at different outfits she’s worn, starting as a child and pretty much goes through her history from childhood to adult.”
That progression, with each outfit serving as a kind of time capsule, Shulz said, strikes home. “Everything that I talk about, I have a point of reference to,” she said. “I either remember it or I wore it myself.”
Through her narration, Gingy provides both the backbone and the connective tissue for the play’s 28 disparate stories.
Bras, boots, sweatshirts, bathrobes, mini-skirts, heels and purses all get their turn. And though the stories are ostensibly about the outfits, each piece serves as a catalyst for varied memories: some funny, some poignant, some sad.
“It’s a beautiful play,” Seal said. “It’s very intimate. It’s very funny at times and serious at other times. It’s intended for mature audiences and I think it’s just a beautiful piece of poetry.”
Here Seal makes an important point: this show is not for all audiences. The Ephrons themselves described it as “‘The Vagina Monologues’ but without the vaginas.” If that sentence is a bit too blunt for you, you might want to skip this production.
“There is some ‘tough’ language,” said Shulz. “And there is some subject matter in it that is not suitable (for younger audiences).”
A play about women’s wardrobes – advertised with a series of pink dresses – might not seem like the most enticing evening out for the gents, but Shulz said, “It’s certainly not a play just for women to come see. There’s some good laughs in it and it might give (men) a bit of insight to why women do the things they do and how they feel about certain things.”
There’s no doubt; the current hashtag movement aside, the play is written to be a “me too” experience for everyone – from the women who will cry “I’ve done that!” to the men who have seen them do it. Any man who has ever had a woman in his life is sure to relate.
A Reader’s Theatre Production
Because the stories – the words – are the focal point of the piece, “Love, Loss and What I Wore” is performed without theatrical frills. There are no elaborate sets, no expensive costumes, and no exaggerated props. Rather than memorizing lines and intricate blocking, the cast of nine, dressed in black, will perform their pieces while seated with their scripts right in front of them.
“It’s a more laid-back environment that puts the focus on the script,” said Seal. “The purpose of reader’s theatre is to keep the emphasis on the script – the words and the poetry of the piece. So there’s music stands and the actresses don’t have to memorize all those lines.”
Joining Shulz behind each of those music stands will be Cynthia Reddekopp, Michelle Rowe, Janet Veeneman, Buffy Davis, Jean Frantz, Connie Dodson, Melissa Shuran and Mary Camp.
“I’m so thankful and honored to direct this wonderful cast of ladies,” Seal said.
Dates, Tickets and Extras
Facility coordinator Fran Gray said there will be vendors on site before the show to share items and information “pertinent to women’s needs,” including products for self-care and pampering.
“It’s going to be an extraordinary evening,” Gray said, inviting patrons to wear significant outfits from their own closets. “You might bring a little hanky with you as well.”
The show opens Friday with performances at 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday at the South Jackson Civic Center, 404 S. Jackson St. A Sunday matinee on Feb. 4 begins at 2:30.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $13 for students. Tickets can be purchased online at southjackson.org or by phone at 455-5321.
Kelly Lapczynski may be reached by email at email@example.com.