Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Love, Loss, and What I Wore

Gratuitous Violins rating: ***1/2 out of ****

I wasn't sure how much I'd relate to Love, Loss, and What I Wore, at off-Broadway's Westside Theatre. After all, it examines women's lives through what's in our closets. While I am a girl, fashion and accessories aren't exactly my thing.

Well guess what, they had me from the very first dress.

The play begins with Rhea Perlman talking about a New Yorker named "Gingy" and the Brownie uniform she wore as a child. I had one just like it when I was a little girl and that memory was enough to make me teary-eyed.

Far from wondering whether I could relate, I found so much that resonated, moved me and made me laugh in this work, based on a memoir by Ilene Beckerman, (Gingy is her story) with additional material collected by Nora and Delia Ephron.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore is a staged reading, with a rotating cast of five actresses who take turns with brief sketches like "The Prom Dress" and "I Hate My Purse." Occasionally they'll glance at their scripts but mostly they're acting rather than simply reading the stories. And there's a little interaction, too.

Through Sunday, the cast includes Perlman, Kristin Chenoweth, Capathia Jenkins, Rita Wilson and Lucy DeVito - Perlman's daughter.

They're all wonderful, moving seamlessly between hilarious stories about searching for the right purse, bra, prom dress and wedding gown, and stories of great poignancy, about coping with serious illness and the death of loved ones.

I liked how so many types of relationships were alluded to in the stories - husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, sisters, two lesbians planning their wedding ceremony.

Perlman, a great comedic actress, tells Gingy's story from her girlhood in Manhattan in the 1930s thorough adulthood with so much humor and warmth. It's accompanied by illustrations of the clothes that played a role at different points in her life.

I was so excited about seeing Chenoweth and it was hysterical to hear her talk about searching for the right purse, and all of the things that we keep in our purses. (I've certainly shopped for my share!)

I have to give special props to DeVito, who's on stage with four much more experienced actresses, including her four-time Emmy-winning mother three seats away. Talk about pressure! But she was terrific, so funny and spot-on as a teenager disappointed by a birthday present.

We chart our lives by the clothes we wear - by the clothes our parents wore. What Beckerman and the Ephrons have done is show how much we define ourselves by our relationship to our clothes, to the stuff we own, and the powerful memories they evoke.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore is about women, and the audience I saw it with was overwhelmingly female. But it's also for anyone who's ever had a woman in their life - yes, that includes men. It's for anyone who appreciates good storytelling. Hopefully, that includes everyone.

And if you don't get everything, don't worry. Honestly, I'd never heard of Eileen Fisher either.

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