Love, Loss and What I Wore, by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron, based on the book by Ilene Beckerman. Directed by Melanie Rivers. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Jackie DeGeorgis, Laura Gardner, Diedre Bollinger, Lara Denmark, Nancy Schaffer; photo:John Kickery of Kickery Kreative Photography
"Any American woman under forty who says she never dressed as Madonna is either lying or Amish."
Laura Gardner; photo: John Kickery of Kickery Kreative Photography
Winner of the 2010 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience this 2008 play has been a winner on six continents and in its local debut, produced at the Whitney Center for the Arts by The Town Players of Pittsfield, "Love, Loss and What I Wore" continues to please audiences thanks to the fine work of director Melanie Rivers and an excellent company of actors. Staged, as it has been from the beginning, as though it was a reading, the five women in the play sit on stools with music stands before them. They are all dressed in black. They act their characters, play their monologues and scenes, on the forestage, without scripts in hand. They are assisted by an on-stage stage manager who changes the "set" a series of drawings of different women at different ages in different dresses and outfits. It is, I think, this straight-forward simplicity that moves the one-act, 88 minute play into the forefront of its kind. That and the acting chops of its players.
Laura Gardner plays Gingy whose personal tale of life and its trappings motivates the play and keeps it centered. Relating incidents that directed her life choices, and relating those moments to the clothes she wore, Gingy guides us into the lives of other women, some she has known, or known about, and some who just must be a part of the proceedings. In this role, played off-Broadway by Drama Desk nominated Tyne Daly, Gardner shines brilliantly. She has an endearing smile and a knowing smirk; she uses her voice and her eyes rather than her body to express the emotions she brings to bear in telling her story. Gardner never misses a moment in Gingy's story from which to wring our loyal empathy and understanding. It's a truly fine performance.
Jackie DeGeorgis confronts us at the top with her story of a step-mother and a bathrobe that disturbs the newness of their relationship. She provides a jarring sensation as she relates the way textile memories can evoke a distancing. Her tale of a paper dress and a dinner party horror story is deliciously funny and equally moving. In her tale of a purse, however, she moves from character actress to emotional icon. These are all moments to remember, but that last one is a sequence that will not be forgotten.
In her many roles Nancy Schaffer maintains an edginess that rivals that of Rosie O'Donnell who played this role in New York. Her remarkable monologue about a woman whose best, though worst, relationship was based entirely on boots, both hers and his, had a special resonance with the opening night audience. Schaffer made her mark in other scenes as well, often playing with one or more of the other women on stage as the Ephron sisters, in writing this collection of pesonal stories, did not confine themselves to monologues.
In fact, the scenes, generally played by everyone except Gardner, keep the play interesting and help to engage the audience. Here, director Melanie Rivers makes her presence known as she engages her actresses in backing up one another in their story-telling. Even when it is clear that the characters do not know one another the mutuality of their own individual experiences is enhanced with a look, a reach, a gesture, a nod or an acknowledging glance. There is never a moment which doesn't hold the eye in this production.
Nancy Schaffer; photo:John Kickery of Kickery Kreative Photography
Lara Denmark; photoJohn Kickery of Kickery Kreative Photography:
Lara Denmark has a great many of the individual speeches to play. I particularly enjoyed her story of the "Gang Sweater" and its effect on her high school years and the time that followed. Young in looks, voice and spirit, Denmark played out the memories in this play as though they were almost current, indeed concurrent with one another in the passage of time. While it was understood that each appearance by the actress was to be a new, a different woman, there was a unity in the understanding and the experiencing of each one. You saw, you heard the differences. You knew it was a special person. Perhaps it was Rivers use of the neatness of this actress and her ability to express the youthfulness in each character that gave a solid uniformity to her renditions. Whatever it was, she was enjoyable and believable and that is really what matters.
While no credit for costumes appears in the program, the choice of black apparel, not unique to this production by the way, for each actress helped to make solid the personnel of the play. In its 28 scenes and interludes something curious in each woman's garb helped to make the roles solid and believable. Denmark's dress was a young, a-line which satisfied the eye, for example, while Garnder was in a solid two piece dress with long skirt and overblouse that was both graceful and protective. Sometimes it is in such choices that a completion of image is created and certainly in the case of this play, those choices were successful.
In a show such as this it is difficult, sometimes for a single actor to outshine her compatriots. Each actress certainly does have her moments here and nothing can limit their impact. For Diedre Bollinger, however, the play is constantly within her grasp. This actress dominates without overwhelming. The wide diversity of the roles she takes here would do that even if she couldn't differentiate them. Instead each of her portrayals is unique and complete and she finds ways, even when seated on her stool in the background, to be a responsive and intensely involved person. In the playlet, "Brides" towards the end of the show she makes her unhappy daughter turned proud marital partner into a near-show-stopper. The actress, though, reintegrates her character into the general pantheon without ever diminishing her. It is a truly memorable performance, nearly erotic but not quite, nearly emotive yet restrained. The Ephron sisters have written better characters, but never have they had one better delivered to an audience.
Lighting design for this show could use a professional goose. Now and then one actress inadvertently shadowed the face of another and another fifty dollars could have prevented that. The simplicity of the production though is one of the best aspects of this play's local performance. We don't need a better set, or props, or classier stools. The show works thanks to its cast and its director. All the audience needs to do is pay attention and with Bollinger, Gardner, DeGeorgis, Schaffer and Denmark, it is impossible not to pay attention. This is a show that will not fail to please anyone who gets to see it.
Laura Gardner and Diedre Bollinger; photo: John Kickery of Kickery Kreative Photography
Love, Loss and What I Wore plays at the Whitney Center for the Arts (The Whit), on Wendell Avenue in Pittsfield, MA through June 25. For tickets and information contact The Town Players at 413-443-9279 or on line at www.townplayers.org.