Friday, October 2, 2009

Love, Loss, and What I Wore


Written by Nora and Delia Ephron, based on the book by Ilene Beckerman. Directed by Karen Carpenter. At The Westside Theatre through January 3, 2010.

A star-studded cast using The Vagina Monologues format to deliver a series of vignettes about clothes, accessories, and the women who wear them. No weak links in the cast, no complaints about the direction. The rotating cast of stars includes Tyne Daly, Rosie O'Donnell, Katie Finneran, Natasha Lyonne, and Samantha Bee as well as others every two weeks. It's everything you need for a bankable evening of touching entertainment. Unless, perhaps, you're a man unfazed by the humor and pathos and left out of the designer label in-jokes. That appears to be the only caveat to this piece compiled by the sisters Ephron, based on the beloved book of the same name by Ilene Beckerman.

Theatre Mania A+
(Sandy MacDonald) [S]o insightful and entertaining is this survey of sartorial preoccupations and the deeper questions underlying them that multiple viewings would be advisable ... The result, especially under Karen Carpenter's fluid direction, is a series of touching and often hilarious vignettes that any actress would gladly rip into. No wonder the play has attracted three rotating A-list casts for its three-month run -- although it's hard to imagine the quintet on view now, Tyne Daly, Rosie O'Donnell, Samantha Bee, Katie Finneran, and Natasha Lyonne, ever being bested.

New York Times A
(Charles Isherwood) If there are chick flicks and chick lit — derogatory though some might find those terms to be — “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” should clearly be classified as chick legit ... As directed by Karen Carpenter, the performers hit their comic marks with precision and imbue the more heartfelt passages with the proper doses of feeling. The smartest and shapeliest piece of writing in the show is that acerbic essay by Nora Ephron about her troublesome relationship with purses. (It appears in her popular collection “I Feel Bad About My Neck.”) Entrusted to Ms. O’Donnell, who does it proud, the essay is a defiant denunciation of the tyranny of the pocketbook, a “j’accuse” for the era of the “it” bag.

Variety A
(Marilyn Stasio) 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.

Associated Press A
(Jennifer Farrar) Tautly directed by Karen Carpenter, the stories often illuminate a moment when a woman's life noticeably changed. Tyne Daly gives a warm performance as Gingy, a mature woman telling her grandchildren about her life through sketches of important garments she wore, beginning in childhood. Each drawing is connected to a vignette about a relationship or event, revealing emotions that inform the woman Gingy became. Rosie O'Donnell reads a touching story about her deceased mother's bathrobe that resonates with the audience. O'Donnell is often fiercely hilarious, particularly in "I Hate My Purse," about a woman's ongoing battle with her handbag issues. The initial cast is rounded out by Samantha Bee, Katie Finneran and Natasha Lyonne, all helping dispense wisdom and humor in these endearing tales from multiple closets and several generations. A
(Melanie N. Lee) The group's other anchor—and the occasional scene-stealer—is O'Donnell, spicing up the evening with her wry, sardonic delivery of some of the evening's funniest lines ... I've often thought how pathetic it is that society judges a woman's worth by the stylishness of her clothes. If Love, Loss, and What I Wore doesn't outright debunk that idea, it does present us with an affectionate, regretful, and nostalgic look at what we do to our clothing, and vice versa.

Backstage A-
(David Sheward) Straight men will probably have a tough time at Nora and Delia Ephron's "Love, Loss, and What I Wore" ... Skillfully orchestrated by director Karen Carpenter, [the cast plays] all ages, classes, and sexualities ... Daly imbues the reading with wisdom and fondness. O'Donnell is particularly moving in a monologue she wrote about her stepmother wearing the same style of bathrobe as her mother did, only in a different color. She brings a standup comic's expert timing to a rant on the shortcomings of purses and creates a surprisingly endearing characterization as a shady woman visiting her husband in prison. Bee and Finneran find a rainbow of shadings as lesbian partners planning their wedding attire. Lyonne combines toughness and vulnerability in a piece on sweaters worn by girl gang members.

Entertainment Weekly B+
(Jennifer Armstrong) What The Vagina Monologues did for, well, vaginas, this stripped-down production aims to do for clothes. And that's not as superficial a mission as it sounds. In fact, as performed by a rotating cast of five actresses, the vignettes — culled from Ilene Beckerman's best-seller, as well as interviews by playwrights Nora and Delia Ephron — prove that clothes do make the woman. Love, Loss, and What I Wore tackles the travails of bra fittings, a late mother's beloved robe, and the hunt for a wedding dress — the perfect counterweight to a stressful day of jeans shopping.

Curtain Up B
(Elyse Sommer) Overall, the interspersed monologues suffer a bit when contrasted with Beckerman's wonderfully economical text, which manages to bring to life a whole cast of relatives and friends and conveys emotion-fraught events with a mere mention (her mother's death, her father's leaving the family, her first husband's unfaithfulness) ... This staged version of Love, Loss and What I Wore did have me wishing for more powerful mother-daughter and other family and friend memories and less emphasis on jokey one-liners. That said, the Ephrons are savvy writers and the audience clearly enjoyed scenes like the one that has the cast take turns recalling words of motherly wisdom ("never wear velvet before Rosh Hashannah" yielded major laughs). Maybe it's because loving Beckerman's book as much as I do and being old enough to actually relate to many of her clothing memories, I expected the play to be even better than the book. Still, the Ephrons have wrought a fun entertainment that may well extend beyond its limited run.

New York Post B-
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) Awkwardly, the even tone -- supportive but not devoid of irony -- tends to level out all the anecdotes, whether a character is going through breast cancer or has just stained a chair. Director Karen Carpenter puts the likable pros through their paces ... The show is akin to a warm estrogen bath, complete with an ambient soundtrack of empathetic ooohs, aaahs and awwws from the audience. Still, $75 a pop is a little steep for such basic comfort theater.

Newsday C+
(Linda Winer) Nora Ephron (zeitgeist essayist, playwright of the criminally underrated "Imaginary Friends" and master of the romantic-comedy chick-flick genre) has described this evening as the "Vagina Monologues" without the vaginas. This would be wittier if it weren't quite so true. Following the now-familiar structure, the show is a bit like a consciousness-raising party with a closet-nostalgia theme - bonding, perhaps, but limiting ... This is humor of recognition, not revelation, deftly directed with snappy timing by Karen Carpenter.

New York Magazine C
(Dan Kois) The show’s theatricality is nil; the women of What I Wore sit on stools reading from scripts, and barely even try on accents, let alone acting. The two attempts at Anna Deavere Smith–like characters—a Latina gang moll bragging about her coat, and a pair of brides telling the story of their wedding outfits—fall flat. Most of the stories feel vaguely universal rather than prickly and specific, and so, like its Westside predecessor—Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues—I imagine this will run for years, or as long as there are bachelorette parties and mother-daughter weekends to feed it. (There may be no quieter, more solitary place in New York right now than the men’s room at the Westside Theatre. You could write a novel in there.)

Talkin' Broadway C
(Matthew Murray) [I]t’s not that there’s nothing of value for the fashion-challenged in this 85-minute exposé of how and why women dress the ways they do. There are some bits of wit and insight you don’t need to be a Vera Wang aficionado to appreciate. And the cast is, and will likely continue to be, a fun and glitzy group ... But this Vagina Monologues takeoff - or, if you prefer, cover-up - otherwise has inescapably limited appeal for anyone who thinks clothes are something you throw on rather than obsess over ... There are no complete misfires to be found within any of the stories, and they just about all can function (for people like me, anyway) as a fascinating window into a truly foreign world. But if you’re on the outside of the circle of knowledge the Ephrons are celebrating, it can be something of a slog - the highlights that transcend gender boundaries are few, far between, and nestled snugly into the last third or so of the show.

Theatre Mania A+ 14; New York Times A 13; Variety A 13; Associated Press A 13; A 13; Backstage A- 12; Entertainment Weekly B+ 11; Curtain Up B 10; NY Post B- 9; Newsday C+ 8; New York Magazine C 7; Talkin' Broadway C 7. TOTAL: 130/12 = 10.83 (B+)

No comments: