Women on the verge of a nightly breakthrough

By Scott Harrah

Rotating cast tells universal tales of love, loss, clothes

Nora and Delia Ephron’s Off-Broadway stage adaptation of Ilene Beckerman’s 1995 memoir is a breezy, entertaining, 90-minute look at femininity and how clothing offers insights into women’s psyches.

The show is presented with a rotating, all-star cast. Tyne Daly and Katie Finneran, Rosie O’Donnell, Samantha Bee, and Natasha Lyonne kicked off the lineup in October.

The Ephron sisters have taken Beckerman’s book and turned it into a sort of “Vagina Monologues” about fashion.  Presented as readers’ theater, the actors sit onstage at music stands, with scripts in front of them.  Their characters tell funny, often touching stories about how clothes have had an impact on their lives.  The tales range from tragic (shopping for a post-mastectomy bra) to silly (a buxom lady trying to find a bra that actually fits) to hilariously crass (a menstruating character tries to avoid staining her new dress — and the dining-room chair — at a swank dinner party).

In the opening cast, Tyne Daly tells anecdotes about clothes and coming of age alongside poster-size illustrations of various dresses, and — using a Magic Marker and poster board — shows the audience exactly how to draw a dress.  As the character Gingy, an older Upper East Side lady, she muses about wanting to tell her kids stories about clothes because “I wasn’t always a mother. I was a girl.”  Daly, as den mother of the quintet, adds warmhearted wisdom to her role, setting the tone for the rest of the characters.

Rosie O’Donnell is uproariously funny as she discusses women’s fascination with purses, and poignant when she talks about the bathrobe worn by her deceased mother.  Husky-voiced Natasha Lyonne gets many laughs as she talks about being a “bad girl” who bought a gang sweater. There is lots of female bonding onstage as Lyonne, Bee, and Finneran often crack up at each other.

It’s refreshing to see actors having so much fun onstage, without the need for lavish sets or costumes, and that’s why the show works so well.  Director Karen Carpenter makes everyone gel cohesively, yet lets each character shine on her own.  “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” is akin to a first-rate “chick flick” for the stage, and one that men will thoroughly enjoy, too.

Tyne Daly, Mary Louise Wilson, Mary Birdsong, Lisa Joyce and Jane Lynch perform through November 15.  From November 18 to December 13, the cast includes Kristin Chenoweth, Rhea Perlman, Rita Wilson, Lucy DeVito and Capathia Jenkins.

Written by Nora and Delia Ephron. Directed by Karen Carpenter. Through March 2010, at the Westside Theatre (407 West 43rd Street). For tickets, call 212)-239-6200 or visit LoveLossOnstage.com.