BWW Review: LOVE, LOSS, AND WHAT I WORE at World Stage Theatre Company
When I was very young, maybe 9 or 10, my parents bought me a dress from a sale rack on the sidewalk outside of a vintage shop. It was mid-calf length, white with blue flowers, sleeveless, and made of a thick canvas material. Above the waist, this material was scrunched together with elastic, or smocked, and it was a few sizes too big, so it hung on me a bit. It was heavy and made me feel safe and small.
Clothes can be incredibly evocative, especially for women, and the play Love, Loss, and What I Wore explores this idea with great playfulness and depth. The production at World Stage Theatre Company that closed this past weekend was a testament to the female capacity to overcome adversity and the ability of an ensemble cast to inspire a sense of sisterhood on stage.
Love, Loss, and What I Wore is based on a book of the same name by Ilene Beckerman. Screenwriter and journalist Nora Ephron collaborated with her sister Delia to adapt the memoir for the stage as a patchwork of vignettes. The original Broadway production divided these up among five actresses who sat on the edge of the stage and read from scripts mounted on music stands.
World Stage decided to interpret the script differently. Instead of a cast of 5, they utilized 8 actresses to take on the varied roles and voices that emerge in the play's monologues and ensemble interludes. In theory, a director of the play could choose different performers for each of its 28 scenes, but the World Stage team was intentional about selecting their cast. According to director Kathryn Hartney, "We could have cast 20 women in this show, but I wanted it to be intimate."
World Stage's choices for the play did indeed foster intimacy. The stage was set with an eclectic collection of lawn furniture and various accoutrements, including snacks and iced tea - it almost felt as though the audience were guests at a fancy lawn party. From the very start of the play, the entire cast was splayed out across this vaguely bucolic landscape, all dressed in black with colorful sartorial accents. At the very back of the stage, there was a clothesline hung with a series of posters depicting stylized drawings of various dresses and other outfits. While these posters started out facing away from the audience, the performers revealed each one in turn as the play progressed, and a new set was attached to the clothespins following intermission.
All of the women were on stage together for the entire play, and they engaged with the performance as active spectators. This added to the communal spirit in the theatre and encouraged the audience to actively respond to the stories as they unfolded. One of the performers (Danielle Balletto) was absent at the performance that I attended due to a recent accident, and director Kathyrn Hartney gracefully took her place with a script in hand. Perhaps it was due to this shared challenge or because it was the show's final performance, but the cast of women seemed not just engrossed in one another's stories but deeply bonded to each other. The play's more abstract, collaborative scenes were some of its most powerful because, while intricately choreographed, the actresses' movements felt incredibly intuitive and spontaneous.
Love, Loss, and What I Wore centers around the idea of women encountering themselves through clothing and discovering their own strength. Several performances of scenes in World Stage's production highlighted this theme beautifully. Kathleen Hope plays Gingy, and her story is the only one that reappears over the course of the play. Hope's performance served as a powerful anchor for the rest of the cast. You could feel the entire theatre holding their breath during Shadia Dahlal's masterful performance of the "Boots" scene, in which a woman reflects on how her relationship to her favorite articles of clothing changed following a rape during her college years. Charity Crawford's performance of the "Gang Sweater" monologue was perfectly timed and completely gut-wrenching. Angela McLaughlin had me cracking up in her monologues about "Shoes" (high heels, in particular) and purses, in a scene appropriately titled "I Hate My Purse". Paula Scheider's rendition of "Lynne's Story" was gleefully unpredictable and skillfully executed right through its surprise ending. Kelli McLoud-Schingen brought the audience to tears with "Geralyn's Story", the play's penultimate scene. It tells the story of a woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer and her desire to maintain and grow her identity through illness. Finally, Sally Ruth Allen's interpretation of "The Prom Dress" scene wonderfully captured the simultaneous humor and heartbreak of searching for your identity as you come of age. In the scene, and young woman describes two experiences going to prom: the first is with a less popular date and she is dressed in a childlike dress, and the second is with a handsome date, and she is dressed to match. It ends with the play's trademark blend of cutting insight and humor-
"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."
World Stage's Artistic Director Kelli McLoud-Schingen stated that this production, along with the others in the 2019-2020 lineup, was specially selected to celebrate 100 years of the women's right to vote. The World Stage team describes their season of performances as a "SHEason" - in the words of Ms. McLoud-Schingen, World Stage is choosing to be intentional about presenting "stories of badass women". The women in Love, Loss, and What I Wore certainly fit that moniker, and I eagerly anticipate the future female characters and actresses that will grace World Stage with their powerful stories.