Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre reopened July 19 with a staged reading of Nora and Delia Ephron’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore, an adaptation of Ilene Beckerman’s book of the same name. The cast included Mary Louise Wilson, Clare Moncrief, Lara Grice, Tracey E. Collins and Janet Shea, who notes in her cast-bio entry that she first appeared on Le Petit’s stage in a 1955 production of The Birds. Carl Walker directed the veteran cast, and a different set of actors was scheduled for the second week of the run.
Love, Loss is a memory play, or actually a nostalgia play. It’s a feel-good, crowdsourced mix of anecdotes and remarks on fashion and various rights of passage, including first times wearing perfume, a bra and a wedding dress. Much of the story revolves around a timeline and narrative from Gingy (Shea), who starts with her first Brownie uniform and progresses through a lifetime of functional and fashionable clothes. For the first third the of the show, the women tell stories in which they fight their mothers as they try to wear the clothes of older women, and there is a litany of interrogations about sexuality and changing social mores. “Your bra strap is showing. … What do you mean it’s supposed to be showing?”
Clothes are used to illustrate social distinctions and boundaries, such as hippie fashion trends and the ordeal of the gift of a 1970s-era brown plaid outfit with an accompanying crocheted vest. At times, the show is more about bodies and aging than clothes, and the run of concerns is often very funny. Grice: “Is my butt falling?” Collins: “Is my butt falling?” Wilson: “Oh my God, my butt fell.”
One of the more poignant moments was a long vignette about coping with breast cancer. Grice portrayed a 27-year-old woman about to undergo a mastectomy. She notices her medical team’s dourness and realizes that they are presuming a short life expectancy. She always had small breasts, but in the wake of treatment, she decides to get not just reconstructive surgery, but a significant augmentation. And as she embraces her new future, she decides a breast tattoo will look good too.
The show’s tone is very upbeat, but a couple of parts don’t fit. The revelation of a rape is a non sequitur in the middle of a story about shoes, and the closing note about loving shoes hits the wrong note. Most of the stories are told by women who bounce back and forth from New York to New England enclaves, and satellite tales are set in places like Berkeley, Calif. An isolated story from a Latina who runs with Chicago street-gang members seems like a lone attempt at ethnic diversity, and it plays like a detour into a bad accent.
Humor about fashion disasters and the dependability of things like wearing black keeps the 90-minute show lively. Wilson was particularly funny and has a great sense of timing, but ultimately, the ensemble is very good.
Love, Loss, and What I Wore
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun.
Le Petit Theatre de Vieux Carre, 616 St. Peter St., (504) 522-2081