Ask a woman about a certain time in her life she will remember fondly. She likely will tell you about the day with nostalgic happiness and a gleam in her eye … and then she will be able to tell you exactly what she wore. It’s an uncanny ability for women: to forget what they had for breakfast yesterday, but remember the pair of heels they wore on their first date ever. Like music and photographs, many women can reference memories with every hanging ruffle, seam and button in their closets.
In 1995 Nora and Delia Ephron (“When Harry Met Sally,” “You’ve Got Mail”)—a romantic-comedy-writing powerhouse—found inspiration in such ideas when reading the book, “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” by Ilene Beckerman. They turned the story into an ensemble for the stage, featuring five women, including the narrator, Gingy, all of whom portray numerous characters. The women showcase universal situations and scenarios, as told through items from their wardrobe.
Having won the Drama Desk Award in 2009 for Unique Theatrical Experience, “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” will open this week at Cape Fear Playhouse as part of Big Dawg Productions’ season. Artistic director Steve Vernon chose the show because the structure and content of the play speaks highly to the current women’s movement resurgence we’re seeing across the nation—all of which fits into Big Dawg’s goal for 2018’s bill.
“One of the themes of our current season is how voices that seem to belong to ‘smaller’ subsets of society (in this case, women) can speak to more universal themes without losing their own identity,” Vernon says.
Though told in the frame of women’s experiences, what emerges are ideas applicable to every race, gender, age group, and religion. The show follows human experiences of joy, discovery, loss, and love. Vernon asked local actress Susan Auten to direct the play.
“I trust her instincts,” he details. “I’ve directed her in several shows and watched her in shows I wasn’t involved in as well. Not only is she talented, but she’s also capable of seeing the subtext in a script. I thought she’d be a great fit for this production because it needed someone at the helm who thinks about the unique structure of the piece without letting the stories involved get lost and vice-versa.”
Recently seen in women’s ensemble pieces “7 Deadly Sins of Being a Woman” and “Parallel Lives,” Auten’s keen sense of timing as an actress is being put to good use from the director’s chair. Her experience moving from monologue to monologue through a variety of characters onstage is guiding the cast—Gina Gambony (also the assistant director), Christina Miller, Teri Harding, Tyana Rumbeau, Alexandra Harris, Linda Wall, Michelle Reiff, and Lauren Busch. They produce touching, empowering, funny, and thought-provoking scenes, as mothers, daughters, wives, exes, politicians, cancer survivors, and lesbians.
“You only have a few minutes to get the audience to invest in these characters,” Auten tells, “and then you’re on to the next scene, so the actors really have to grab them.”
Women’s centric topics, like rape, buying a bra or agonizing over an outfit are covered. But it moves beyond being femme-focused and covers death, disease and divorce, too.
“‘Holly’s Story’ gets me because it’s about how we can sometimes channel our grief or emotions in negative ways, which is something I relate to and I think others will as well,” Auten explains. “[Though] clothes are used as the memory trigger, which is probably a more typical female thing, men have sense memories, too, so I think they can relate to having something that reminds them of their past.”
Rape is covered in “Boots,” to which the director praises the acting chops of Harding. Just as well, the Ephron sisters have included romantic comedy. One of Auten’s favorite monologues comes from Gambony’s portrayal of “Lynne’s Story.”
“It is about a woman who meets the love of her life right before he goes to prison and it is hilarious,” Auten praises. “They’re all great, but also interspersed are what are called ‘Clotheslines’ that have the ensemble in them; they are probably my favorite thing.”
Gingy (Miller) is the only recurring character of the show. Audiences learn her story over the course of the play. “A lot of the characters are just normal, everyday people going through things we all go through,” Auten notes.
While the show is normally put on by a handful of women, sitting on stools and reading the scripts in character, Big Dawg has chosen to block the show with full memorization from the actresses. Still, the set, done by Scott Davis, is minimal, with the brevity of the monologues carrying the show.
“The actors are bringing so many great things to the table and really overcoming the challenge of taking something that is scripted to be reader’s theatre and making it interesting, emotionally and physically,” Auten praises. “There are moments where they have me laughing hysterically, and then moments that are really beautiful and moving.”