Love, Loss and What I Wore – Theatre Review

Originally developed by sisters Nora and Delia Ephron (Sleepless In Seattle, You’ve Got Mail), Love, Loss & What I Wore, directed-produced by Paris Valentino of Come One Come All Productions, is an insular play constructed of interweaving monologues performed by Felicity Steel, Alanah Parkin, Sally Cheng, Tamanna Kaul, and Claire Pearson. Based on the 1995 memoir of the same name by Ilene Beckerman, Love, Loss and What I Wore is a love letter to women and a testament to the power of clothes.

In the upper levels of The Butterfly Club, past the op-shop assortment of mirrors, décor, and wall-art and up a narrow staircase is a small stage and 5 seated women. The set decoration is simple, allowing for the fact that there really isn’t much room to move; a backdrop of child-like illustrations of different garments and outfits, each one framed by little LED lights like a marquee. In front of each woman is a music stand and a red folder, presumably holding the script so they can maintain their place despite the lack of physical cues. Slowly, the theatre fills, and the lights dim, giving way to the first of approximately 28 stories.

The main character of Love, Loss and What I Wore, is an older woman nicknamed Gingy, a fictional version of Beckerman. Gingy takes her audience through her life, pinpointing the most poignant memories by the outfits she wore. Each outfit corresponds to one of the illustrations behind her, lighting up as she speaks about it. Throughout the approximate 1hr run time, Gingy’s story is threaded and intercut with little vignettes by the remaining cast members who sometimes work independently, in pairs, and all together.

The stories told in Love, Loss and What I Wore span a variety of themes – first, second and third marriages, breast cancer, gang affiliation and rape – and each one is told with humour and sensitivity. Whether speaking about wearing crotchless pants for a partner, a favourite pair of boots, or the cultural impact of Madonna, every story told paints a vivid picture utilising clothing as a lynchpin. What Love, Loss and What I Wore, and the performance of the cast illustrate so beautifully is the power of sensory memory.

Trauma, happiness, even mundane activities, can burn permanently into our memory via the strangest channels, and the stories in Love, Loss and What I Wore reveals that clothing can be a powerful conduit for unlocking pain, happiness, sorrow, and longing. The feel of the fabric, the colours and textures, the endorphin rush when you buy something shiny and new, each aspect with the ability to store and unlock moments in time. While these stories may be unique to Beckerman, the Ephron sisters, to the cast or the story, ultimately each one is in its own way is relatable and capable of drawing the audience in.

The format of Love, Loss and What I Wore is also really refreshing; by cutting into Gingy’s story with small outside tales, her monologue feels better framed and each time we regroup to the centre of the stage and resume her story. we get to skip past any needless exposition and dive right back into the meaty parts. Every cast member did an excellent job of managing and maintaining the various accents and languages required for each character, considering how many stories had to be told.

Despite the script being right in front of them, the cast were able to faithfully maintain eye contact with the audience and exerted a cadence that made the performance feel beautifully natural, like we were just a gaggle of girlfriends gossiping over a few wines. Extra props to the cast also for the times when things went awry and they remained firmly in character, like a moment when an audience member accidentally dropped something and one of the actors swiftly responded with “bless you”. No moment throughout the production felt forced or awkward, making for a pleasant viewing. Whether you’re going solo or for a girl’s night out, Love, Loss and What I Wore is a must-see theatre experience.

Love, Loss and What I Wore is playing now at The Butterfly Club in Melbourne until the 4th of December.
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Photography supplied by Come One Come All Productions.

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