The Setup: Do the clothes make the woman? If you asked Nora and Delia Ephron, they'd probably say no, but they'd also say that a woman's wardrobe can tell her life story. That's the premise of their 2008 play Love, Loss, and What I Wore, which is now playing at Obsidian Art Space as part of Houston Theater LaB's current season.
The Execution: The play is a series of monologues in which various women reflect on pivotal events in their lives - prom night, marriage, adulterous rendezvous, breast cancer diagnosis, divorce - and the outfits they were wearing on these momentous occasions.
The character of Gingy is the one through line of the monologues. Played by Mary Hooper, Gingy takes the audience from childhood to grandmother-hood by revisiting some of the most important outfits of her life. (Illustrations from Ilene Beckerman's book, the play's source material, are projected onto a screen, which makes for a nice visual aid for those that might have a hard time picturing a "wool jersey print dress.") The four other principal actresses embody women of varying ethnicities, ages socio-economic backgrounds, educational levels, and sexualities, all deeply concerned with the clothes that they were.
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The monologues are interrupted by sequences that are marked by "clothesline" categories, in which the four non-Gingy characters enter a rapid exchange of categorized concerns. A few are rather comical, such as "The Dressing Room," in which the women lament the difficulty of finding a garment that's actually purchasable, but others are a bit superfluous, like "The Closet," in which we're reminded of the need to have a yard sale every once in awhile.
Similarly, the major stories themselves have a wide-range of impact; some are more immediate than others. Particularly affecting is the narrative of a young, UC Berkley artist who finds her artistic voice while developing an affinity for short skirts and designer boots. The boots and the skirts empower her, and imbue a confidence that only a smart, attractive young woman can possess. But her sense of individuality is shattered when a man breaks into her apartment and rapes her. The short skirts get shipped off to Goodwill, but she keeps the boots. Why? Because she loves boots, that's why.
The Verdict: There are moments when the narratives seem to bleed into one another (there are so many ways to distinguish failed marriages from other failed marriages), but this handsome production runs at a nice pace, and its five actresses often raise the play to surprisingly emotional heights.
Love, Loss, and What I Wore continutes through October 19 at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak Drive. For more information, call 713-868-7516 or visit www.thelabhou.org.