Big Dawg Productions continues its stunning season with “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” by Nora and Delia Ephron, adapted from Ilene Beckerman’s book. Structured as a series of short scenes and monologues, it utilizes clothing as a vehicle for exploring memories and stages of the characters’ lives.
Chris Miller portrays Gingy, based upon Beckerman, whose appearances create the spine of the show. We follow Gingy from the beautiful dresses of her childhood through major life changes, marked by specific clothes: dresses her father bought her for the last birthday she spent with him; the dress she wore when she discovered her husband was cheating on her; the suit she was wearing when she met her third husband. The clothes are jumping-off points for recounting some of the more poignant moments of life, but they also showcase changing attitudes toward women in the 20th century and are powerful symbols of the armor we wear to face daily life. Miller captivates onstage at every turn. From little girl en route to ballet practice, to a new young divorcée, to the sharp ad exec, we can’t help rooting for her to succeed. Perhaps it is the wistful hopefulness she projects into every memory she shares with the audience that makes her so relatable.
Clothing remains one of the most complex and subtle symbols humans use to communicate with each other. For women, especially, there are rites of passage associated with clothing that shape and define our lives, like our first bra. There is life before it, there is life after it, and never will you forget the first one and the life change for the better or worse. In addition to Gingy’s stories, several “Clotheslines” pepper the show: essentially round tables with multiple characters weighing in on topics—and the first bra had to be a topic.
Tyana Rumbeau lights up the stage every time she enters. Seriously, everyone of these women are a delight. Rumbeau has my heart, though. The simplicity of her statement how finding the right bra was a matter of getting felt up in a utility closet by a well-meaning sales person and that it changed her life, was just perfect. It also was a stark contrast to her delivery of the story about physically attacking a little girl on the playground who had inherited her favorite dress as a hand-me-down. The contrast between the visceral events is really well-manifested.
The struggle of finding something to wear, something that doesn’t make a woman look fat, or feel awful, and is appropriate to the occasion, is one for every woman to comprehend. However, Teri Harding closes act one with the most perfect performance of the feeling. In one helpless collapse of desperation and disappointment, she gives vent to the inner screams of anguish felt around the globe.
Alexandra Harris takes us on a tour of the worst aspects of the ubiquitous purse: the crumpled-up Kleenexes, bags of snacks from airplanes and other miscellany that quickly gravitate into the orbit of a handbag. She recounts a saga of disappointment and shopping that includes a purse purchase costing more than a car. Harris is so vehement about her distaste for the most functional of fashion items, it triggers all the latent resentment buried about the purse. Though she touches on many aspects of the “purse problem,” no one mentioned just how hard it is to load or unload drywall while carrying a purse—something I have yet to see a man struggle with. But I digress.
Harris is filled with righteous indignation I wish was channeled toward something of great worth—like our water crisis, for example—rather than purse struggles. Until I remember my own struggles of having to shop for a purse. Then reality hits—and, actually, her anger is pretty dead-on. It impacts every aspect of a woman’s daily life. How can she be so controlled and calm in her anger? I wondered. That’s when the enormity of her performance hits home.
Susan Auten directs the show and also appears in two monologues. Though the first is heartbreaking, it is her piece toward the end about getting to have a lacy white underwire bra for the first time in her life that sat with me for days. The sacrifice she makes for it—which no one would wish for anybody—is unfortunately all too close to the lives of many. She could make it a plea for pity, or an anger-infused look at the demands and sacrifices of cancer. Instead, she rides waves of complexity and creates a much more realistic and human depiction of her journey.
Lauren Busch gives audiences many memorable characters, among them, the absurd psychiatrist trying to help Teri Harding gain weight and save her crumbling marriage. That she can deliver facile lines with such commitment is a surprise in and of itself. That we can still find sympathy for her is even more amazing. Though, I certainly wouldn’t want to be her patient, and it is such a relief when Harding finally tells her off.
Linda Wall’s discovery of how the perfect sweater really is life-changing—for good or for ultimate disappointment—leads the audience through young desire and incredibly unexpected life lessons. She is so sweet and elated, her delight is infectious. It is easy to believe she is a young teenager experiencing all the excitement for the first time.
Gina Gambony has a great talent for comedy. Indeed, most people would applaud this skit most. Gambony’s a woman finding true love—with a man headed to prison. The monologue goes through the machinations they get up to, in an effort to subvert the system and gratify their desires in difficult circumstances. She sells it with humor, genuine warmth and a sense of discovery.
However, her monologue about high heels, and having to choose between wearing heels or being able to think—because the pain they caused was so blinding she actually could no longer think—is my favorite. It is a journey of desperation and frustration cloaked in comedy, so audiences laugh to keep from crying. She very believably convinces us of the struggle of giving up high heels and what it can do to a woman’s life—not just professionally but otherwise.
The Ephrons have put together a script that could provide for a humorous evening with a small amount of emotional material, weight and gravitas. But instead it shows great depth with comedic relief thrown in to make the weighty topics palatable and approachable. Auten’s direction and talented cast breathe it to life for an evening to remember, encompassing a range of human experiences that mines nuance at every turn.
Frankly, the Ephrons owe Auten and the cast a debt of gratitude because they make the writing sparkle, shimmer and come alive. More so, they give us an evening that focuses on more than just appearances.