11:54 AM CDT, September 16, 2011
"Some of us care about fashion and the rest of us just wear clothes," Nora Ephron said in a recent three-way phone interview with her sister Delia on the line. "When you're 3 years old, one of the only things you have any say in is in what you wear. They start letting you get dressed. It's one of the first ways you start trying to figure out who you are."
Based on a book by Ilene Beckerman, "Love, Loss, and What I Wore" is structured similarly to "The Vagina Monologues" (although the content is a whole other matter). Perched on stools with scripts on music stands, a group of five women (the rotating cast in New York has featured several celebrities) tell interwoven stories about boots, short skirts, purses, outrageous teen clothing rebellions. But the point, of course, is not just to talk about clothes (well, not only about clothes), but to explore life's journeys through that which covers women's vulnerable hearts and adorns, or accessorizes, their ever-changing bodies. One constant character provides the arc of the piece.
"Clothes are part of your identity," said Delia Ephron. "People gasp when certain things are mentioned. Like Birkenstocks."
"Everyone is so mortified that they ever wore them," said Nora, a famed screenwriter, director and all-around poly-hyphenate whose movies include "Sleepless in Seattle," "When Harry Met Sally" and, more recently, "Julie & Julia."
From Birkenstocks, and with the gentlest of prompts from her sister, Nora moved directly to her purse. "It is just a horror," she said. "I always try to fix it, sometimes by buying a new purse. But it only lasts for about four hours. It's amazing how your purse comes right back at you. I have friends who have four little perfect purses inside their purse for makeup, money, their cellphone. I have to cover my phone in fluorescent pink plastic so I can find it."
If you find yourself identifying with purse chaos (wallet chaos?), this might be your show. But the Ephrons also wanted to introduce deeper themes. "Women remember what they were wearing for a medical diagnosis or when they got divorced," said Delia. "Clothing is an emotional trigger for every aspect of life."
The new Chicago production was triggered by prominent Broadway producer Daryl Roth. In essence, it's the long first stop on a projected national tour, although Roth said that, ideally, she would like to leave this company in Chicago and find another group to go out on the road. The chances certainly seem good that the piece will remain in Chicago for the entire fall, if not beyond.
"We've been able to give work to over 100 actresses," Roth said, in a separate interview from New York, noting that there is now a vast company of the famous (from Rumer Willis to Rosie O'Donnell) and not-so-famous (plenty of those) who are able to pop in and out of the show for a few weeks. "We find that some audience members like to come back when there is someone they want to see," Roth said. Producers, of course, love a show that attracts repeat business. And actors love a show that they can do on and off, as their life allows. According to Michael Rubinoff, who just successfully produced the show in Toronto, the rhythms and humor of the piece vary significantly with each cast change. That's not surprising: This is tour-de-force storytelling that is very open to varying forces of personality.
The opening Chicago cast — made up of ex-"Saturday Night Live" star Nora Dunn, Barbara Robertson, Felicia Fields, Katie O'Brien and Emily Bergl— certainly has plenty of collective personality. They'll be playing in a theater double the size of the Westside Theatre, where the show plays in New York. But you can't beat the Chicago location: the Broadway Playhouse is behind Water Tower Place shopping mall and within spitting distance of pretty much every clothing line on the planet.
"Love, Loss, and What I Wore," Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St.; $68-$78; 800-775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
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