Theater review: ‘Love, Loss, and What I Wore’ at the Geffen Playhouse
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Think of it as a warm-up to “Sex and the City 2.” Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron’s cozy “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” now at the Geffen Playhouse, is the kind of affirming chick outing that makes you want to rip off your Spanx and have another cosmo. Carrie and crew will be here soon enough, but until then, this cheerful fashion séance -- hosted by Rita Wilson, Carol Kane and friends -- will do.
“What I Wore” began as Ilene Beckerman’s sweet sartorial memoir of clothing worn at pivotal moments in her life. The Ephrons have added on to Beckerman’s closet, collecting stories by other women and fashioning these confessions into an evening of monologues. Unapologetically low-tech, “What I Wore” is performed by a cast of five engaging actresses reading off music stands, a sort of “Vagina Monologues” meets “What Not to Wear.”
But the show isn’t out to reclaim female sexuality from centuries of oppression; it wittily celebrates wardrobe malfunctions such as puberty (“The breasts, the bra, the divide”) and your mother’s taste in clothes (“I don’t understand, you could look so good if you tried”). Or that torture chamber otherwise known as a department store dressing room (“But I’m an 8. I’ve always been an 8”).
First date outfits, lucky underwear, favorite boots: For millions of women, clothes aren’t just “cover,” as one character puts it, they’re a gateway drug to a more a serious addiction: the pursuit of a self (or selves) imagined but not yet achieved. (“Any American woman under 40 who says she’s never dressed as Madonna is either lying or Amish.”)
Clothes are also time capsules that hold our past identities, previous body shapes, and hopes seized or abandoned. Beckerman and the Ephrons understand how powerfully our closets speak to us, how they can mock, affirm, inspire. There’s the fabulous dress you bought for the date with a guy who married someone else. The spandex bra that gave you the monoboob look. The mysteries of toe cleavage. Even in California, where the native costume is a Juicy Couture tracksuit, clothes can hold us hostage. Or liberate us.
“What I Wore” affectionately plays with all these notions without delving into them too deeply, content to skim the surface of its rich subject matter. Monologues on weight, status bags and high heels become missed opportunities. There are times when the enterprise seems a little underdressed.
Still, under the deft direction of Jenny Sullivan, the cast sets an easygoing tone in keeping with the minimal staging.
Decked out in all-black and high heels, they make for a chic lineup.
Wide-eyed Kane has lost none of the comic timing she displayed in “Annie Hall” and “Taxi,” and deploys her old-school shtick with admirable restraint. As Gingy, the narrator of Beckerman’s original story, Kane gives the evening its emotional center. She takes her life lumps straight, no chaser, instead of milking them for fake pathos.
Wilson (“Sleepless in Seattle,” “It’s Complicated”) has self-deprecating appeal as a woman who wears a paper dress on the wrong day of the month. (Is there any right day to wear a paper dress?) Caroline Aaron (“Crimes and Misdemeanors”) relates the story of a woman, her incarcerated lover, and a certain pair of pants with a strategic hole. The vibrant Tracee Ellis Ross (“Girlfriends”) does a mean Rosie Perez impersonation during a story about a gang sweater; later she brings the house down with a bit about a favorite shirt. (In early June, the cast will change; check the Geffen website later this month for details.)
Dry-witted Natasha Lyonne (“The Slums of Beverly Hills”) delivers one of the best moments, a tale of two prom outfits. The first, a stiff, powder blue gown, accompanied a nerdy escort to the junior prom. The second, a sexy black mini dress, was as hot as her senior prom date. The contrasting looks articulate an identity dialectic: “Here’s the thing — I’ve never really known for sure which of those two people I am — the girl who almost doesn’t get asked to the prom at all or the girl who gets to go with the really cute guy. Every time I thought I knew which one I was, I turned out to be the other. Which is one reason I think I got married, to, like, end the confusion.”
It’s the kind of wry observation that gives “What I Wore” a certain irresistible charm, despite its shortcomings. Men — fathers, lovers, husbands — may come and go, but a killer outfit is forever. Even if you can’t get into it anymore.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
“Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 4. $69-$74. (310) 208-5454 or www.geffenplayhouse.com. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.