Review: “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” at the Garfield Center

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Want to watch five women talking about clothes? You might not think so. But don’t jump to conclusions – you may find out you’ve missed a delightful theater experience, We’re talking about “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” Nora and Delia Ephron’s comedy now playing at the Garfield Center for the Arts.

The play is directed by Diane Landskroener (a talented actress in her own right), It brings five of the area’s most talented actresses to the stage to deliver a witty, insightful script that looks at all the myths — and truths — about women’s relationship to what they wear.

By the time she wrote “Love, Loss…” Nora Ephron was already an established novelist and screenwriter, with credits including “Silkwood,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”

The Ephron sisters based their script on a 1995 book of the same title by Ilene Beckerman, with added material from the playwrights’ friends. The play opened in New York in October 2009 and ran for two-and-a-half years. Among the actresses in the run were Rosie O’Donnell, Tyne Daly and Samantha Bee.

The play is set up as a series of monologues, with only occasional interaction between the various characters. The only straight-line plot is the story of Gingy, who reminisces about her life from childhood to grandparenthood over the course of the play. Julie Lawrence plays the role with a warmth appropriate to the character. You may remember her appearances in Short Attention Span Theatre and “Vanya, Sonia, Masha, and Spike.”  She was also Assistant Director for the Garfield’s recent production of “Mr. Roberts.”

The rest of the roles are taken by Jen Friedman, Jennifer Kafka-Smith, Melissa McGlynn and Hester Saches, each of whom portrays several characters. Except for Lawrence, all the actors remain seated throughout the performance, with their scripts on music stands in front of them. And all are dressed in black, a sort of sly comment on the play’s focus on clothes.

In essence, the performance is a staged reading. Staged readings are usually done to demonstrate a play, most often to family and friends and potential backers. But “Love, Loss…” uses the format to bring to the stage a large number of related stories that would otherwise require an impossibly huge cast with dozens of scene and costume changes.

I wondered at first if this kind of staged reading would work. But after the first couple of scenes I realized that as the actors spoke, the scenes came alive. It was like being in a room with five good story-tellers — you didn’t want to miss a word. The actors used variations in voice, accent, facial expressions and gestures to create all the characters. It worked beautifully.

So while there is no action of characters moving around the stage, there is plenty of emotional energy — fond hopes, broken hearts and wild obsessions – not to forget a good deal of comedy.

Much of the comedy stems from good-natured stereotyping of women’s attitudes about clothes. In several scenes, gathered under the title “Clothesline,” four of the women comment on topics from different points of view. The themes include not being able to find anything to wear – despite having a closet full of clothes; not being able to fit into some of the clothes – too fat, too thin!; the importance of black garments; the importance of bras, and so forth.

At the same time, the play deals with serious issues such as cancer and rape, without overdoing it.

Each of the women gets an opportunity to interpret a more developed individual character, too. These include a wide variety of characters who relive the thrills and stresses of  prom dates, weddings, affairs, and divorces. There is even a woman whose husband lands in jail right after the wedding.

Friedman, one of the area’s most reliable comic actors, is especially good here in reacting to the other characters in scenes in which she is not directly involved, yet without overdoing it.

McGlynn gives an energetic performance, particularly in an extended sequence about boots that takes an unexpected turn toward the end.

Sachse did a good job of handling many characters; I especially liked the one about choosing a wedding dress.

Kafka-Smith effectively differentiated her characters, with one strong scene, “I Hate My Purse” that is especially amusing.

A projector displays drawings on the backdrop of some of the important dresses in Gingy’s life, along with the titles of the scenes. Except for an easel that Gingy brings in at one point, there are almost no props.

While the play doesn’t focus on adult activities or language, there is enough mention of sex and bodily functions that you might not want to bring the younger family members. The youngest would probably be bored. But most adults won’t!

This is not a play for everyone, but if you’re ready for something a little bit different, I heartily recommend “Love, Loss and What I Wore.”

The play runs through April 30, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Performances run well under two hours. Tickets are $20 for general admission; senior citizens and members of the military $15; and students $10. Call 410-710-2060 or visit www.garfieldcentre.org for reservations.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Robin Wood says:

    Great review; it’s good to see your byline.

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