‘Love, Loss, and What I Wore’ at NextStop Theatre Company

This confection of a girl’s-night-out show deserves seven stars, one for each of the six actresses, who depict 29 characters in 28 vignettes about fashion, plus one for Director Lorraine Magee.

Marilyn Bennett. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Marilyn Bennett. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

The play is by the hilarious novelist Nora Ephron, whose credits also include When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, and her screenplay-writing sister, Delia Ephron, whose movies include the You’ve Got Mail and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

It is based on the book of the same name by Ilene Beckerman, whose drawings of outfits she and her female relatives once wore are projected on the walls to illustrate the monologs.

Director Magee, a Georgetown University alumnus who teaches at Encore Performers in Chantilly, VA., takes the performance beyond its off-Broadway roots, where it was performed as staged reading and won a Drama Desk Award for “unique theater experience” in 2010. Instead of readings, she has the devoted actresses enacting each part around a huge pink velvet ottoman.

The show opens with Gingy (Marilyn Bennett) who describes her homemade ballerina outfit.

“I wore this outfit to dancing classes… but what I really wanted was store-bought clothes.”

In the only continuing narrative in the show, Bennett warmly takes us through a failed boyfriend relationship (“This is the coral, wool jersey dress I bought for a date with Walter Fenton”), three marriages, four children and into that inevitable time when one’s cleavage begins to resemble a peach pit.

A real scene stealer is when she draws an outfit on her sketchpad and the projection, animated by Michael Sherman, shows her drawing as it takes place. The timing was just a little bit off on opening night. Her own drawing is good, but the audience is focused on the screen and her pencil motions should match.

Gingy’s unapologetic stories are interspersed with ensemble pieces that are meditations on things like the first bra (“My father took me, I still can’t talk about it”), prom outfits, public dressing rooms, brides, and being too fat or too thin.

These spoken chorus moment strike a chord with women because of lines like this one, in which the characters stop a beat and then quote their mothers: “I don’t understand. You could look so good if you just tried.”

But the skillful acting really shines through in the vignettes, when the actors bring forth finely wrought stories based on real emails that the Ephrons gathered after Nora Ephron wrote the introduction to Beckerman’s illustrated book.

Vivian Allvin does a great rendition of a Chicago gang leader’s girlfriend who is proud to wear the insignia sweater of the Latin Chancellors and take a walk with the guy who designed the crest.

Tamieka Chavis lovingly describes the perfect shirt that she had for a summer before she misplaced it and compares it to a boyfriend, whom she also lost. It’s not hard to guess which one she missed more.

Sarah Holt ably depicts a Berkeley art student who wears miniskirts with suede above-the-knee boots until she got raped… and then chooses to continue to wear them.

Shaina Murphy is forthright as someone who takes good care of her cowboy boots and married a guy she was attracted to because of his own multiple pairs. Her story of visiting him in prison and their subsequent life together is worth the price of admission.

Jaclyn Young sensitively describes breast reconstruction surgery after getting a mastectomy at age 24 due to breast cancer. “No one thinks you’re going to live, but I did.”

All of these are either tear-jerkers or triumphant ‘Uh-Huh’ moments, but the emotional heart of the show is a scene called ‘Sisters.’ Unfortunately (for theatregoers), the entire run was sold out before opening night, but if you like fashion or are a woman of a certain age, I recommend going for standby tickets to this quick stop right off of the Dulles Toll Road. If you don’t get in, there are a bunch of ethnic restaurants in the upscale warehouse district that is home to the Industrial Strength Theatre.

With a Helen Reddy soundtrack utilized by Sound Designer Eric Kritzler before the show and during intermission, and the intimate dinner-theater seating at little round tables designed by Scenic Designers Evan Hoffman and Joan Lada, this show is a total chic magnet. But surprisingly, the audience on opening night was also full of men–the same ones who wait in the armchairs outside the dressing room in department stores.

All of this begs the question of what the characters wore. Costume Designer Kristina Martin has them in… what else? All black, including killer shoes from local thrift store N’Used, and each one of them looks just fantastic. As they say in one scene, “Can’t we just stop pretending that anything will be the new black?”

Plus it goes great with that huge pink upholstered ottoman by Technical Director Jon Harvey, which was a perfect touch for Valentine’s Day.

Amy Nicewick, a self-described non-clothes person who incidentally had on a great red wool cape that reminded me of Marlo Thomas in That Girl, was in the audience on opening night with her husband. “They talk about the clothes but it is so much more than that. It’s more about life.”

Marilyn Bennett, Shaina L Murphy, Tamieka Chavis, Sarah Holt, and Vivian Allvin. Photo by Traci J. Brooks.
Marilyn Bennett, Shaina L Murphy, Tamieka Chavis, Sarah Holt, and Vivian Allvin. Photo by Traci J. Brooks.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore plays through March 1, 2015 at NextStop Theatre Company performing in The Industrial Strength Theatre – 269 Sunset Drive Park, in Herndon, VA. The show is sold out but standby tickets may be available at the box office if you show up one hour before the show.

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