The Ephron Sisters' Love, Loss, and What I Wore: Life As Told by Bras, Purses, and Shoes

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Women tend to remember what they were wearing at life's big moments. (Maybe men do, too.) It's probably because some outfits are very carefully chosen, and because some events really carve in stone the memory of things like those million little buttons or cuffed ivory ankle boots or the skirt that became a cold compress (or, on World's Dumbest Partiers #11 (don't be judgin'), a flame-smothering blanket substitute). Some clothes make you feel like you can beat the world. Some turn out to make you want to crawl in a hole.

A nice lady named Ilene Beckerman was moved to write and illustrate her reminiscences of some of her family's wardrobe, and the little book that resulted, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, was expanded, by writer sibs Nora and Delia Ephron (whose parents wrote the screenplay for Daddy Long Legs -- how about that?), with topics and monologue-style essays from some other women and made into a stage experience that's a bit more classy than a lot of other girls'-night-out theater, which can put one's teeth on edge with the bizarre popularity of its offensive, lazy, sappy awfulness.

Though the vignettes are inclusive of race and economic status, it's still a rather Manhattan-centric show, probably because of the circles the Ephrons run in. That might be irrelevant unless you miss great stores with accessible fashion -- which I do. But the feelings and relationships that are artfully illuminated by the script and the performers (who sit on stools at music stands, wearing black, just being terrific actresses) are universal.

There's a lot about moms, which makes sense, because they dress us, and typically a lot longer than we want them to. Speaking of moms, they are constantly absent or dropping dead in these stories, and of course there's a cancer survivor, and there's a cute lesbian couple picking out wedding clothes. Playwrights (screenwriters in particular) who target the lady audience tend to make me feel like an easy lay as an audience member with all this heart-tugging. (So sometimes I just don't "spontaneously" applaud when everyone else does, and then I feel better.)

This touring show has several things in common with professional productions of The Vagina Monologues; one similarity is the easily rotating cast, which helps audiences experience bigger-name actresses as well as a variety of actresses. Love, Loss, and What I Wore has a character, Gingy, who basically represents Beckerman. She needs to be a lady old enough to have been married a few times and have grandchildren, and though she's the lead/hostess of the performance, she has a light burden when it comes to lines.

Our Gingy is Loretta Swit, who's best-known for having played Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan Penobscott on the M*A*S*H TV series. She looks kind of tired, bless her heart, but she's a genuinely old lady, after all, and she's friendly and warm and confident. The brooch fell off her black dress as she entered the stage the other night, and I wished so badly she'd pick it up (or ask someone to), maybe put it back on, and ad-lib something, but no; it just lay there the whole time. She even has a line about it later -- about it being on her dress -- and she didn't correct herself or laugh or anything. I hate missed opportunities.

An actor has to be extra-good to rivet and charm you from a chair with a book. The rest of the cast is, fortunately, also that good, even if you don't recognize their names. One of the very best is Sonia Manzano, who's been playing Maria on Sesame Street long enough that chances are you do know her. She gets to talk about some sexy stuff, which probably means more if you're young enough (like 45 or younger; sigh) to have wholesome memories of her.

Another standout among an ensemble of winners is Daisy Eagan (at far right in the photo above), famous for having been the youngest female Tony winner ever for The Secret Garden, now all grown up and about to be famous again, I bet, for appearing in the upcoming musical based on Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy. Is it Eagan's petite curviness, her perfectly cropped hair, her bright lipstick, her heels, her sparkling eyes, her sassiness, her utter comfort in her body and in the moment? It's all that and more. (Yes, we have a girl crush.)

Love, Loss, and What I Wore continues through Sunday, January 8, in the Virginia G. Piper Theater at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second Street. For tickets, $39 and $49, click here or call 480-499-TKTS (8587).

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