We all look sexy in black. Does this make me look fat? What was I thinking when I bought this? You’re wearing that? We’ve all heard it. We’ve all thought it. Clothes. The potential epicenter of the woman’s world. And while you may not be a woman obsessed with fashion or a woman who thinks you are defined by what you wear; there is something for everyone in this vast closet of explorative stories relating to the wardrobe — be it a sweater, your favorite pair of boots, a particular dress or even that prized accessory — something heartwarming and touching, but most importantly something that you can relate to on a deeply personal level. Fells Point Corner Theatre presents Love Loss and What I Wore by Norah and Delia Ephron, based on the book by Ilene Beckerman.
Directed by Steve Goldklang, this riveting play jumps headlong into a series of vignettes that are comparable to The Vagina Monologues only instead of girl parts and sexuality the stories have a central focus of clothing and the emotions that are connected to them. It becomes every woman’s story throughout the production; there are moments and phrases and imagery that surface that we can all relate to; a truly touching and wildly entertaining piece of theatre that becomes a comfort food of the soul for the evening.
Set Designer Roy Steinman keeps it simple, letting the focus fall on the five women of the show. A large backdrop decorated in rosy pink tissue paper waves rests behind five black artist stool chairs and that’s the show. Combined with Goldklang’s direction of “wear all black and look fabulous” these basic design elements accentuate the stories of these woman rather than detract from in their simplicity and really assist in making some of the stories ‘pop’ against such vibrant and dark colors.
Goldklang coaxes a synchronization from these performers that augments the ‘everywoman’ voice of the text. Although they rarely speak in unison, there are montage moments — both during the ‘dressing room’ and ‘closet’ sequence where they echo each other’s sentiments with brilliant connectivity; allowing not only for them to connect with one another but for them to connect outwardly with the audience. They speak as if we are their mirror, reflecting back to them what they’ve said, and as if we are their friends, family, sisters, mothers, daughters; every woman to whom the story may be relevant. It is quite the experience.
Helenmary Ball is our initial narrator. While the women all take turns telling stories we meet Ball as Gingy – the redhead who gets things started. Her stories flow smoothly; each sentence a fulfilled thought from deep inside her mind, gently extrapolated for sharing. She keeps kind eyes on the audience, inviting us to experience these stories with her rather than simply listen; her warm and welcoming approach to the character making the play have a radiant homey feel to it.
Beverly Shannon is the jack of all trades in this performance. Given the chance to show off her vast knowledge and impressive range of accents we see Shannon performing as a Latina from a Chicago girl’s gang, an uppity Eastern European Shrink and a hint of New York City from time to time. Shannon speaks largely with her eyes; the absolute windows to her stories as she emotes to us. The story involving her paper dress is absolutely a riot; showing us how one maintains complete calm in chaos and her lines during the various closet, dressing room, and bra montages are some of the funniest moments in the show.
That is except for Andrea Bush’s purse rant. Easily a ten minute story that feels like it passes in no time at all that expresses the severe frustrations and emotions that go with being defined by your purse; this is Bush’s finest moment on the stage. She engages the audience with her ferocious attitude and hilarious approach to debunking the notion of a woman’s purse. Bush stands out during many of the montage moments with her boisterous voice and elaborate facial expressions.
While the show is mostly uplifting and often times empowering it is not without its heavier subject matter. Anne Shoemaker bears the brunt of these weightier emotional stories; delivering them with powerful concentration and deeply rooted emotional expressiveness. Shoemaker tackles a series of moments that regard the challenging subjects of cancer, rape, death and loss, and grounds herself so thoroughly in these moments that you believe she has actually personally experienced these stories and that they are no longer just words from a book that she memorized. She does get the chance to show off her fun and flirty side throughout the performance but should be commended for the extreme depths to which she delves to accomplish the more emotional burdens of the show so successfully.
The most captivating performer of the show is Kate McKenna. Claiming the trifecta of performance with her vivid facial expressions, compelling vocal expressions, and the way she engages her full physicality while telling a story; the audience gets one knock-out sensation from McKenna every time she launches into a tale. You feel the edgy moments of her story when her body begins to jut out toward the audience, almost like watching a 3D movie and she’s so wrapped up in what’s happening that you get lost with her too. Her high heel monologue reveals the universal anguishes and agonies that all women experience when they have to make the decision between pretty and practical. A stellar performer if ever there was one.
These five fantastic females really rock the wardrobe in this witty and entertaining evening of closet-humor theatre. Remember — while your clothes may not define you — they do mark your life in ways you could never imagine.
Running Time: One hour and forty minutes with no intermission.
Love Loss and What I Wore plays through December 9, 2012 at Fells Point Corner Theatre – 251 South Ann Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 276-7837, or purchase them online.