COLDWATER,Mich.–Memories are funny things. They get attached to totally unrelated things sometimes, whether it be where we are, what we were smelling, who we were with or what we were wearing.
It is that last memory prompt that Nora Ephron and Deliah Ephron—under the inspiration of Ilene Beckerman’s book—latched on to when they interviewed people to pull together the monologues for Love, Loss & What I Wore, the final show of Tibbits Summer Theater’s season.
Done as a reading, it features Debbie Culver, Gloria Logan, Ericka Mae, Suzanne Ogden and Donna Schulte on five stools sharing memories and reflections on the clothing they wore from childhood forward.
Logan starts the play out and is the author’s voice—“Gingy.” She tells you she had recently started drawing pictures of dresses that were important to her in her life. These drawings are projected onto a screen behind her. You soon learn that each dress has a story—a memory—attached to it.
Once she has told her story, the other women on the stage pipe up with similar stories or at least stories from the same time period or theme. The stories range from funny to sweet to painful.
Of the women, Logan seemed the most prepared, using her script more as a prop than as a crutch. She glowed when telling her stories and hers were the ones from the same person that wove throughout the entire 70-minute play (the program says 90 minutes, but on opening night it ran from 7 p.m. to 8:41 p.m.).
Debbie Culver was also spot on, bringing a wide variety of emotions to her monologues. She had some of the most touching ones from the college-aged woman who loved to wear boots and short skirts to the woman preparing for her wedding to another woman her homophobic mother didn’t approve of.
Schulte seemed less familiar with the show, spicing her monologues with a lot of “ums” and glances back at the script. But she did make an excellent mom and a naughty lover who knew just what to do when visiting her imprisoned beau.
All of the actors did a good job of listening to each other, giving small reactions and encouragements to each other. In the scenes where they interacted, they did an excellent job of playing off each other and keeping the timing just right.
The show, directed by Charles Burr, very much relies on the idea that clothing is important to women—and in a way that it isn’t to men. There are discussions of heels and purses, designer clothes and homemade clothes, high fashion and ultimate comfort. Clothes become a metaphor for these women’s lives and the important events that take place.
It does, though, require you to buy into the idea that clothing makes the woman. That can be a tough sell to some—and may be the reason at least four people in the somewhat small crowd walked out of the show mid-way through. On the other hand, they may have just had pressing appointments elsewhere that prompted them to walk over their fellow patrons, whispering loud apologies.
Sometimes the stories worked well. And it did establish that one story can prompt many others, that through the sharing of memories about a piece of clothing, whether a dress, a bra or a purse, women can connect with each other and perhaps communicate their stories and memories to other family members in a way that helps them move on. It also revealed that sometimes such an inconsequential thing as a piece of clothing can help us make it through difficult times.
The set was simple as was the costuming. Everyone wore some variation of blacks—a black dress, a black jumper, black pant suits. All were elegant and seemed especially appropriate when the women all talked about hitting an age where they wore only black.
The set consisted of only the five chairs and some closets in the background that had clothes hanging from them. They tease at the idea that the actors will at some point use them, but they never do.
All of the stories told in the books are ones that the playwrights gathered from women. It is a play of oral history, not of fiction. This makes the monologues more touching. It is a show targeting women. At one point someone asks whether men do these same things over clothing, and the answer is a resounding no.
As a play, it may be something that can help spark your own memories or give you something to talk about with your girlfriends, your sisters, your mom. You can also enjoy the charm and sincerity of the five women who tell these stories.