No wardrobe malfunction at The Gem

By John Quinn

Rarely does a play's title sum up its theme as succinctly as does "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," a satisfying bit of satin and lace by the formable author-playwright-screenwriter sister act of Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron. Their rendition of Ilene Beckerman's eponymous book, fleshed out by personal accounts by friends and family, garnered a 2010 New York Drama Desk Award, plus was named Favorite New Off-Broadway Play by It's not an experience everyone can appreciate, but that has nothing to do with "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus" discussions.

"Love, Loss, and What I Wore" is "Readers' Theatre." The five principals sit behind music stands, which hold their scripts, at the edge of the stage. There is no blocking, no set; the costumes merely tasteful variations on basic black. Some people will feel short-changed; the discerning patron will learn how a talented artist can create character using only voice and body language.

"Talented" is faint praise for this ensemble. Appearing in the Detroit run are stage and TV actress Emily Dorcsh; Tony Award winner Daisy Eagan; "Sesame Street" actress and 15-time Emmy Award winning writer Sonia Manzano; American television icon Loretta Swit; and Broadway's Myra Lucretia Taylor. It is a tribute to both the playwrights and the actors that each performer is so secure in their characters that one would think the characters were written for her alone.

So, what's the story? We're presented with a series of monologues, accounts by various women about the emotionally poignant moments of their lives, using wardrobe as both memory inducer and metaphor. The most thoroughly developed story is told by "Gingy," both narrator and the voice of author Beckerman. Her life story is the spine that supports the others' tales, describing her three marriages, motherhood and the death of a child, "each turning point marked by a particular item of clothing." The part is played by Swit, accompanied by whimsical sketches of the corresponding outfit. The stories range from the wildly funny "I Hate My Purse," which in Taylor's dead-on rendition declaims the triumph of Woman's mind over matter, to Gingy's tragic account of the death of her 18-month-old son. What mother could endure a hospital call, "Your son has expired," as if the life of a baby has all the import as the shelf life of a can of tuna. It is a gut-wrenching scene.

If it is true that "chick flick" entered the lexicon to describe Nora Ephron's "Sleepless in Seattle," then, yes, "Love, Loss, and What I Wore" is "chick theater." That's not a bad thing, guys. Although it is obvious to any audience observer that the women are clearly enjoying more of the "been there, done that, kept the receipt" moments, those of us who will never dither over choosing and unchoosing the right sweater don't feel entirely left out. The material is just too strong; as always, art transcends gender, ethnicity and time, and speaks to what unites, rather than divides us. But seriously, dudes, do any of us know - or care - who Eileen Fisher is?


'Love, Loss, and What I Wore'

Broadway in Detroit at The Gem Theatre, 333 Madison Ave., Detroit. Wednesday-Sunday through March 4. $49.50. 313-963-9800.

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