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eMBer Women’s Theatre’s Vibrant Love, Loss and What I Wore

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford eMBer Women’s Theatre’s Vibrant Love, Loss and What I WoreLeft to right: Susan Gellman, Jennifer Barlup, Ayla Stirnaman, Traci Weaver.
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With their second full production, eMBer Women’s Theatre takes on Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron’s Off-Broadway smash Love, Loss, and What I Wore, (adapted from the book by Ilene Beckerman) directed by Michelle Batt. With this second production, the company establishes itself as a vital voice in Columbus theatre.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore is a collage of monologues and sketches about the role clothes play in women’s lives. These scenes benefit from the strongest cast on a stage in Columbus. Vicki Kessler’s character, Gingy, is the through-line of the piece, showing drawings of various dresses worn by the character, her friends, and her Mother, in five sequences throughout the play. The rest of the ensemble augments that voice: Melissa Bair, Jennifer Barlup, Jennifer Feather-Youngblood, Susan Gellman, Cat McAlpine, Anita McFarren, McLane Nagy, Ayla Stirnaman, Traci Weaver, and Susan Wismar.

The structure of Love, Loss, and What I Wore, works like a concerto, flowing through multiple movements and highlighting solo instruments against the massed voices. Vicki Kessler’s funny, sharp tour de force as Gingy, sets the bar high for the monologues. Other standout solos include Susan Gellman’s character lovingly recounting the sweater she wore in a Chicago gang; Traci Weaver’s heartbreaking remembrance of college in Berkley, foregrounded by her character’s love of boots; McLane Nagy’s nostalgia for a perfect shirt, forever tied to an old relationship; and Jennifer Feather-Youngblood’s scorching “I Hate My Purse.”

Brides Anita McFarren and McLane Nagy.

The ensemble pieces also alternate between voices/perceptions without a specific character and multiple characters interacting. Highlights of the former include Gellman, Jennifer Barlup, Ayla Stirnaman, and Weaver dissecting the appeal of all things black; and Weaver, Anita McFarren, Feather-Youngblood and Bair on the appeal of Madonna. Shining moments of the latter include Susan Wismar and Cat McAlpine as hilarious truth-telling sisters to Anita McFarren; and McFarren and McLane Nagy as brides with very different families.

Michelle Batt masterfully manages the emotional resonance between the play’s scenes. McAlpine’s character dealing with losing her mother in “The Bathrobe” coming right after the look at hilarious, unwanted advice in “What My Mother Said” from Gellman, Feather-Youngblood, Stirnaman, Weaver, and McFarren, has the appropriate wallop but doesn’t feel obvious. Similarly, McFarren’s tale of shoes and self-discovery after Feather-Youngblood, Bair, Gellman, and Barlup’s “Fat/Thin” is like a clarinet solo following the rush of a brass fanfare.

Love, Loss and What I Wore seemed to drag a little as it went on. Batt’s direction is so precise on those earlier sequences, where everything is a sharp stab and you can snap your fingers through it, that the longer, more detailed stories at the end seem slow, even though on a scene-by-scene basis they’re every bit as strong or stronger. That shift could be built into the material and there may be no way around it.

Love, Loss and What I Wore is a funny, true, moving evening. It’s a ride worth taking.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore runs through November 17 with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For tickets and more info, visit emberwomens.com.

Vicki Kessler and Susan Gellman as Gingy and Mom.

Anita McFarren, Cat McAlpine, and Susan Wismar.

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