Any woman who has a purse filled with capless pens, capless lipsticks and tissues that may or may not have been used, or whoever has been fitted for a bra, or who has a mother, should grab a girlfriend and hightail it to Little Lake Theatre Company’s production of “Love, Loss and What I Wore.”
This show is big fun, in the way that a gab session with your six wittiest and most honest friends is fun.
The one-act play, written by the late Nora Ephron (“When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle”) and her sister Delia Ephron and based on the 1995 book of the same name by Ilene Beckerman, is performed as a series of monologues delivered by a cast of six women, describing, in turn, the garments, accessories and hairstyles that played crucial roles in some of the most memorable moments of their lives.
The show was initially presented as part of the 2008 summer series at Guild Hall in East Hampton, N.Y., and then was produced off Broadway as a benefit series. Its production at Little Lake Theatre in Canonsburg, directed by the theater’s artistic director Sunny Disney Fitchett, is its Pittsburgh premiere.
Narrated by “Gingy” (Joyce Miller), the stories mark time for women through Brownie uniforms, prom dresses, bridal attire, boots and bags. The monologues are laugh-out-loud funny, because they are completely relatable, such as the stories of the clothes forced upon the women by their mothers, who inevitably had very different opinions on what a young girl should be wearing.
One character recounts her mortification about the “outfit” her mother purchased for her as a birthday gift when she was 13: brown plaid wool pants and a crocheted vest, when “everyone else was dressing like hippies.”
The “outfit” could not be returned, because it was bought on sale. “My life is over just from wearing it in the house,” she despairs.
Because outward appearance is so strongly associated with identity by most women, the struggle between mothers and daughters over what that appearance should be is a recurrent theme in the show. In a chorus of one-liners we hear the all-too-familiar admonitions of those who bore us:
“Put on a little lipstick.”
“Take off all that make-up.”
“Are you wearing that to annoy me?”
“Never wear velvet before Rosh Hashanah.”
“You’re pretty enough for all normal purposes.”
Then there are the stories of shopping for a first bra.
“My father took me,” one character says. “I still can’t talk about it.”
Although there were only a handful of men in the intimate Little Lake Theatre last Thursday night, they too were cracking up at some of the fashion tales, to which everyone of a certain age could readily identify.
“Any woman over 40 who says she hasn’t dressed as Madonna is either lying or Amish,” we’re told.
The voices in this show are our voices and the voices of our friends and our sisters. The challenges of shopping for clothes that properly fit, of finding the most flattering color, of being too fat or too thin, are echoed by the cast in a segment which plays out in the dressing room of clothing stores across America every day.
“Is there something wrong with the lighting in here?”
“My arms! What happened to my arms?”
“Is my butt falling?”
“Does this make me look fat?”
It was Shakespeare who said, “Clothes make the man.” But it is the fashion designers who make the clothes, and this show tells the truth about some of them as well, taking the audience on a sort of catwalk down memory lane.
Remember Betsey Johnson’s paper dress from the 1960s? Or jumpsuits? Or Birkenstocks?
“You absolutely could not be friends with anyone who wore Birkenstocks,” one character says.
The ensemble of six actors play brilliantly off each other, portraying women at just about every phase in life, and there are many poignant points in the show in addition to the laughter. Sara Barbisch delivers a particularly affecting monologue about rape, which concludes with the character deciding to forego wearing the miniskirts that were the mainstay of her wardrobe, but resolutely continuing to sport her high boots. Leah Hillgrove speaks about the choice to get a strategically placed tattoo after reconstructive surgery following breast cancer.
A piece of advice offered by a friend before her character’s surgery: “When you go into the hospital, look fabulous.”
Little Lake is collecting the fashion stories of its patrons and hanging them from a clothesline in its lobby. Anyone wishing to share a story of a miserable prom dress or a sentimental item of clothing can email that story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The show runs through Nov. 1. For information on show times, and for tickets, go to littlelake.org.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.