Sisters Nora and Delia Ephron have penned a great girly show in “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” a bittersweet meditation on the joys and tribulations of women’s lives, reflected through the prism of their clothes. Show’s monologues were culled from Ilene Beckerman’s bestselling book and from recollections of the scribes’ friends, among them Rosie O’Donnell, who appears in the first of three alternating all-star casts. Although performed on book, by thesps who remain glued to their stools, these stories reach out to all the sisters pawing through their closets in search of what they’ve loved and lost.
Everything in a woman’s closet holds a memory. Some are sweet, some are funny and some are so unbearably sad, you dare not touch those black cigarette pants (or that lace bustier or those ratty blue jeans) without your best friend at your side and a Xanax in your system. Scribes get the complex psychology of women’s clothing and accessories (they get it, they get it!), but they extend a visual aid by opening the show with a matronly character named Gingy (Tyne Daly, the soul of womanly wisdom in her understanding and all-forgiving smile) who draws sketches of the various clothing items that figure in her memories.
A drawing of a silver fox stole worn only once reminds Gingy of her mother. (“She wore glasses, but whenever I draw her picture, I always forget to draw the glasses.”) That recollection stirs memories of their own mothers from all the other women represented on stage, culminating in a hilarious litany of remembered and still-treasured fashion notes (“Take that off, you look like a slut”).
Rummaging through the closets in their minds, the women move on from mothers to boyfriends to husbands to ex-husbands to grandchildren — skipping, interestingly enough, their own daughters. The items of clothing that unlock their memories also shift, from bras and prom dresses and bridal gowns to those universal symbols of feminine lust: Shoes and Bags.
Throughout the show, Samantha Bee delivers the slyest bon mots in the most vixenish manner (her impression of a Freudian shrink is a gem). But each actress gets the chance to stretch herself: Natasha Lyonne, vulnerable as a tough girl from Chicago wearing her gang sweater; Kate Finneran, beyond brave as a cancer patient clinging to her sexy underwear; O’Donnell, heartbreaking as a grown woman pierced by the memory of a bathrobe worn by her dead mother.
Full-ensemble comic sketches on topics like “Black” and “The Closet” and “The Dressing Room” are so impeccably timed and drolly delivered, under the direction of Karen Carpenter, they could be musical numbers. In fact, the show (whose rotating cast will also include Mary Birdsong, Kristin Chenoweth, Lucy DeVito, Capathia Jenkins, Lisa Joyce, Jane Lynch, Rhea Perlman, Mary Louise Wilson and Rita Wilson in the coming weeks — could easily be re-conceived as a piece of musical theater. In which case, everyone would need a totally new wardrobe — and wouldn’t that be fun?