By Pat Launer
When men open their closets, they see pants and shirts and shoes. But women see their lives spread out before them; a flood of memories: favorite items worn to unforgettable events, beloved or unwanted gifts, people they were with and the times they had.
This is the premise of “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” based on the tiny, charming, self-illustrated 1995 book of the same name, by Ilene Beckerman.
When sister collaborators Nora and Delia Ephron (“You’ve Got Mail,” “Sleepless in Seattle”) read the book, they knew it would make an effective stage play (‘The Vagina Monologues’ without the vagina,” is how Delia told me they referred to it). So, they emailed 100 of their friends for further material, which they then tossed into the mix. Everyone had clothing stories that marked and defined their lives.
“Love, Loss, and What I Wore” premiered in New York in 2009, and it ran for more than two years, winning the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience and the Broadway.com Audience Award for favorite New Off-Broadway play. The show has been produced on six continents, in countries as diverse as France, Australia, Mexico, Germany, the Philippines, South Africa and Israel.
Produced by the same group behind the wildly popular shows: My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m In Therapy; RESPECT: A Musical Journey of Women, and Old Jews Telling Jokes, the comedy is making its San Diego debut, starring an array of local favorites.
Five women present a series of vignettes, with stories told by a range of women, from name-dropping New York Jews to a Chicago Latina gang member, to a defiant breast cancer patient,. There are funny tales (or one-liners called “Clotheslines,” some of the best bits in the show), about weight, dressing room anxiety (“Is this mirror, like, distorted?”), nutty things your mother told you (“Always wear clean underwear”), and comical discourses on ridiculously high heels, overstuffed purses (a piece borrowed from Nora’s book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” the best extended monologue of the evening), wardrobe malfunctions, the tyranny of the closet and the importance of the color black. There are poignant chronicles of mother/daughter relationships, sisterhood, friendship, and the men (and marriages) that waft through women’s lives.
Beckerman’s personal stories course through the show (her nickname was Gingy, for her ginger-colored hair), delivered here by Melinda Gilb, who hadn’t quite settled into her character on opening night. JaCole Kitchen nails all her parts, including the Jewish mother routines; DeAnna Driscoll displays her crackerjack comic timing and Rachael VanWormer (looking especially sleek in her black outfit — de rigueur for all these women) is funny or touching in her varied roles. Elsa Martinez is best in the gang-girl sequence.
Unlike the original and most other productions, director John Anderson chose not to have his leading ladies seated statically at music stands. Instead, they come on and off the stage to present solo and ensemble pieces, telling their tales to each other, or directly to the audience (which responds enthusiastically).
You might think this is just ‘women’s work,’ but the scattered men in the audience (including my husband) found plenty that was more than familiar and chuckle-worthy. All told, it’s a well-presented, feel-good evening of reminiscence and self-reflection (mirrors figure prominently), served with a comical scoop of self-mockery.
- “Love, Loss, And What I Wore” runs through March 22 at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza
- Performances are 7 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday, with matinees at 2 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday
- Tickets ($45-$65), available at http://playhouseinfo.com ($3.50 online service fee per ticket), include up to four hours free parking in Horton Plaza (must be validated in theater lobby)
- Running time: 85 min.
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at www.patteproductions.com.
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