Lives Through Clothes: Love, Loss and What I Wore at FPCT

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L to R: Kate McKenna, Beverly Shannon, Andrea Bush, Anne Shoemaker, Helenmary Ball

Lives Through Clothes: Love, Loss at FPCT

Posted on November 18, 2012

            Sometimes there are shows you’d like to like more. Nora and Delia Ephron’s 2009 show Love, Loss and What I Wore, now gracing the Fells Point Corner Theatre’s downstairs stage, is a case in point. I don’t know much about Delia Ephron’s work, but I adored her late sister Nora. I was hoping for bright flashes of Nora’s mordant wit, but it’s not quite that kind of show. Nor is it exactly a dramatization of Ilene Beckerman’s faintly-poignant-despite-the-stoicism 2005 autobiography-told-through-clothes of the same title. Instead, it is Beckerman’s book plus the gleanings of 100 e-mail questionnaires the Ephrons sent out to female friends about their lives with clothes, and little of it bears the stamp of the Ephron wit.

The theater piece (it can’t exactly be called a play) thus becomes a series of monologues, choral spoken pieces, and a few dialogues, articulating the collective encounter between women’s lives and clothes. The humor, such as it is, lies in the shock of recognition some of the comments are at least intended to evoke. I found it pretty weak, with the conclusions of the skits often being obvious from the first word. Take, for example, the moment where all five of the performers stand in front of imaginary closets, noting in frustration that with all the garments inside, they feel as if they have nothing to wear. What are the odds, with all that frustration and negativity, that they’re going to find anything by the end? And even if, like me, you’d heard next to nothing about the show in advance, how surprising would it be that they’d have a segment on the entropy that inevitably overtakes the contents of a purse, or one on the embarrassing and frustrating time one has shopping for a bra?

Even the tentpole of the show, Beckerman’s contribution, a series of episodes telling the history of “Gingy” (Beckerman’s nickname), illustrated with Beckerman’s minimalist drawings, are so restrained as to resonate very little. And the show doesn’t do much to make it resonate. All the details Gingy shares (street addresses in New York, names of clothing stores, descriptions of the fabric) had better already mean something to you, because the show isn’t going to supply much additional context.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Love, Loss; it’s just that there isn’t enough right with it.

Which is not the fault of the performers. The four who each handle several roles (Andrea Bush, Kate McKenna, Anne Shoemaker, and Beverly Shannon) and Helenmary Ball, who mostly just channels Gingy, are fine, and occasionally even shine, in those too-rare moments when the material permits. Shannon did an attention-grabbing turn as a Chicano chica in Chicago reminiscing about wearing a gang sweater and being blissfully groped by the gang leader. Shoemaker catches fire as a lesbian finding a tuxedo to wear to her wedding. Bush (a plus-size actress) showed something in a monologue about plus-size clothes. And I laughed at McKenna in a raunchy skit about a jailbird’s wife wearing pants with a hole in the crotch so she could be pleasured while visiting him. Steve Goldklang seems to have directed them all well.

It’s not them; it’s the show. The Ephrons seem to have set out to make the point that on some profound level, women’s clothes are themselves, and that women’s very lives are bound up with their clothes and vice versa. But the case is not well-documented. There are a couple of stabs at seriously supporting that argument. For instance there’s a skit in which a woman mourns the misplacing of the perfect shirt, a loss that occurred at the same time as she was losing a boyfriend; well, neither loss caused the other. Partly because of that fact, the agonizing over the shirt sounds superficial and silly. There’s another in which a woman stops wearing miniskirts after she’s been raped; this is a more plausible case-in-point because obviously the injury to the woman’s feelings about her own sexuality is being communicated through the language of clothes. But one would expect a greater change in the clothes to make the point. The lengthening of skirts is presented as a minor mid-course adjustment, since the main emphasis in the piece is on the thigh-high boots the woman wore both before and after the rape.

While I wish it had been stronger, I’d be loath to drive anyone away. In the end, it’s a gentler show than I’d have liked, but even at a somewhat dilute strength, it was quietly enjoyable. So go, but keep your expectations under control.

Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn, except for photograph

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