A good piece of theater transports you to a different place, and in the case of Love, Loss, and What I Wore, the sentimental comedy by Nora and Delia Ephron that’s traipsing the metaphorical runway at Triangle Productions, that place is a walk-in closet or a department-store dressing room. The Ephrons’ tale is overflowing with skirts, sweaters, bras, robes, dresses from party to wedding, lipstick, hairdos, shoes/boots/flats/heels – even, if I remember right, a brief constricting fling with that antique instrument of torture, the girdle. It’s a fashion bonanza of a theatrical parade, delivered with a wink and an almost-audible whisper: Try it on. You’ll like it.
Theatrical transit’s a good and valuable thing, but as someone whose ordinary concession to the dictates of fashion is a pair of L.L. Bean comfort-waist jeans and a 20-year-old all-purpose Pendleton shirt whose elbows have tragically worn through, I felt a little like a stranger in a strange land, wandering in a world not my own.
Not all that strange, though, because as fashion-fit as Love, Loss is, all those frocks and frou-frous act as talismans – significant emotional markers along the journey of life; ways of remembering and reminiscing about big moments and the way they intertwine with anything, really, but in this case, clothes.
They are also, of course, frocks and frou-frous pure and simple, things that women bond over and love or loathe to wear. Part of the “love” in the title refers to that pure affection for fashion that men who can recite baseball statistics from fifty seasons ago can recognize but probably never fully understand. The multiple woman characters who are played by five performers in Love, Loss, and What I Wore stitch the fabrics to the deeds: Remember the humiliation that time my mother made me wear that awful outfit? The boots that kicked up my self-confidence? The junior prom, when I wore that modest, proper prom dress? The senior prom, when I chose the slinky one? The Brownie leader outfit my mother didn’t wear? The way I stopped wearing miniskirts after I was raped?
Men pass, in a parade of crushes and dates and disappointments and divorces and occasional abiding relationships. Mothers and daughters annoy each other and love each other. Tragedies and comedies come and go, eventually becoming stories, with outfits to match. At heart, Love, Loss, and What I Wore is about living and stumbling and surviving, and the pleasure and satisfaction that come in retrospect. As a product of the subversive Ephron comic imagination, it’s about a few good gags. It’s about women, on their own, engaging with the world’s frustrations and exercising their own power and desires – and if being girlie’s part and parcel of it, what’s it to you?
For all the talk of frocks, they’re mostly heard and not seen. Triangle director Don Horn’s five likable stars – Michelle Maida as Gingy, the main storyteller, plus Deanna Wells, Trish Egan, Olivia Weiss, and Lisamarie Harrison – mostly sit in a row across the stage, flitting in and out of roles in solo or ensemble, mixing and matching and shifting now and again but with no attempt to enact scenes in an ordinary sense. It’s a memory play, and it’s the stories that do the bouncing around, quickly and deftly. The actors dress in black, and all those other garments spring to life in the imagination, or in quick sketches on screens at either side of the stage. The idea seems to be to create a lively, engaging ensemble of friends who enjoy each other’s company, and encourage the audience to enjoy it, too.
The Ephrons based their play on a 1995 book of the same title by Ilene Beckerman (Nora Ephron wrote the introduction to it) which had a similar episodic structure and was something of a cult hit. They adapted it for the stage in 2008, and the theatrical version’s been something of an underground enthusiasm, too, playing New York and hither and yon and down the street and across the ocean to enthusiastic audiences made up mostly, but by no means entirely, of women. The Ephron imprint helps. Nora’s known for her screenplays for the romantic comedies Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally (a lot of people forget she also wrote the script for Silkwood) and, in collaboration with her sister Delia, You’ve Got Mail and Bewitched.
Nora’s fascination with fashion in Love, Loss, and What I Wore shouldn’t come as a surprise, either. She’s made her reputation with a certain sort of wryly sophisticated urban wit, and although her stories have depths, they care about surfaces, too. Her 2006 book I Feel Bad About My Neck was a best-seller, but also drew protests from people who thought her obsession with the wrinkles of age was self-indulgent and, in its obvious caring about keeping up appearances, somehow classist and traitorous to the feminist cause. On the other hand, liberation means not just being free to reject cultural expectations, but also being free to choose to enjoy the way you look if that’s what you like: different frocks for different folks.
The Ephron attitude is – I don’t want to say sunny, but surely optimistic, in an ain’t-life-a-bitch kind of way, and that warm and genuine if also wryly knowing optimism provides much of the play’s appeal. But bad things also happen in Love, Loss, and What I Wore: It’s not all fun and games. It’s a little tricky bringing those darker episodes out and making them as stark as they ought to be amid the general feel-good flow of this production. Nevertheless, slowing things down in spots and letting the shocking episodes truly shock rather than gliding over them would punctuate the production and give it more depth – and make the overriding affection feel more warm and genuine, too.
But, down to brass tailor’s tacks: A lot of people genuinely love dressing up. I say, if it works, enjoy the ride. When in doubt, clean the closet out. On the other hand, what do I know? I wear comfort-waist jeans.
Love, Loss, and What I Wore continues through May 25 at Triangle Productions, in The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, 1785 N.E. Sandy Blvd. Ticket and schedule information here.