Female characters dress to express in ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’

By: K. Michelle Moran, | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 14, 2017

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — They say that clothes make the man, but clothing seems to take on more significance for women than for men.

The outfits that are synonymous with key moments in the lives of women link the stories of an array of female characters in “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” which will be staged by the Purdon Studio Theatre — the black box production arm of Grosse Pointe Theatre — Feb. 16-26. The show, a comedy with serious undertones, was co-written by famed comic writer Nora Ephron and her sister, Delia Ephron.

The late Nora Ephron was probably best known for her work writing screenplays such as “When Harry Met Sally,” and writing and directing films including “You’ve Got Mail,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Julie and Julia.”

 The cast of “Love, Loss and What I Wore” includes, from left, in the front row: Kathy Conlon, Elizabeth Schaefer and Shawn Henry; second row: Stella Woitulewicz, Phelan Johnson, Eileen White and Sidni Goodman; and back row: Erin DiSante, Heather Neely and Cyndy Nehr.

The cast of “Love, Loss and What I Wore” includes, from left, in the front row: Kathy Conlon, Elizabeth Schaefer and Shawn Henry; second row: Stella Woitulewicz, Phelan Johnson, Eileen White and Sidni Goodman; and back row: Erin DiSante, Heather Neely and Cyndy Nehr.

Photo by Dale Pegg, provided by Grosse Pointe Theatre

Because of construction at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House Activities Building — which is being replaced by a visitors center — this year’s PST production will be staged at Grosse Pointe Woods Presbyterian Church, located on Mack Avenue at Torrey Road, across the street from Grosse Pointe Woods City Hall.

Kathy Conlon, of St. Clair Shores, is one of the actresses in the small ensemble cast. At the first rehearsal, she said the all-female cast members talked about their own experiences in connection with issues touched on during the show.

“I could identify with the stories that the women told,” Conlon said of the characters. “I think women (in the audience) will identify with it, unquestionably.”

Elizabeth Schaefer, of Grosse Pointe Park, plays Gingy, the narrator and the one constant during a play in which all of the other actresses play multiple roles as different women remembering different points in their lives. Director Laura VerBeek, of Grosse Pointe Park, said Gingy is “the only thread throughout the show.”

VerBeek said the clothes — everything from a Brownie uniform to a prom dress to a maternity outfit — serve as “the springboards to” important memories.

“What drew me to it is, it is women’s stories,” Schaefer said. “The clothes are just really symbolic of the passages in women’s lives.”

VerBeek said the “multigenerational” show — with a cast to match, ranging in age from 17 to over 70 — also demonstrates the significant role of relationships between women and “the importance of other women in our lives to support us, hold us up when we’re going through hard times.” Although men might not be eager to see it, those who have seen it have found it genuinely funny and moving, according to cast members. VerBeek said her husband said he gained a new understanding of some of the things women go through as a result of seeing this show.

“It could give men insight into women,” said stage manager Mary Lou Britton, of St. Clair Shores. “It would certainly help them understand the women in their life better.”

Because of some mature language and subject matter, this production is not recommended for children.

“It’s definitely an adult (show),” Schaefer said.

PST — made possible by a bequest from the estate of the late Carol Kennedy Purdon and Jac Purdon, both creative individuals who long supported GPT — staged its first show in 2010. Black box theaters are usually smaller, more intimate venues, and GPT uses PST to produce edgier material that “wouldn’t necessarily be able to be done on the (GPT) main stage,” Britton said. However, PST is very much still a part of GPT.

“We are Grosse Pointe Theatre,” Britton explained. “There’s no division of us.”

Essentially a series of monologues, “Love, Loss and What I Wore” has been produced as everything from a staged reading to a more traditional — if minimalistic — play. This production is traversing the latter route, but that still means that it needs a strong cast to pull it off. Fortunately, VerBeek said she found a great group of actresses.

The show is “witty and funny, with moments of poignance and sadness, so it kind of runs the gamut,” VerBeek said. “It’s really a show for actresses. You have to have really good actresses to draw you in.”

The play “Love, Loss and What I Wore” was based on an illustrated book of the same name by Ilene Beckerman, and VerBeek said Conlon has created large-scale paintings based on some of those simple drawings.

“They’re incorporated into the show,” Schaefer said of the replicated illustrations.

The cast also includes Shawn Henry of Grosse Pointe Park, Erin DiSante of St. Clair Shores, Sidni Goodman of St. Clair Shores, Phelan Johnson of Grosse Pointe Park, Heather Neely of Detroit, Eileen White of Warren and Stella Woitulewicz of Detroit.

“I really hope women come out to see this,” said cast member Cyndy Nehr, of Grosse Pointe Woods. “It’s perfect for the winter blahs. It’s an endearing play. … It’s passed off as comedy, but it’s really deep and it’s really thoughtful.”

The Purdon Studio Theatre production of “Love, Loss and What I Wore” will be staged at Grosse Pointe Woods Presbyterian Church, 19950 Mack Ave. Tickets cost $15. For tickets or more information, call GPT at (313) 881-4004 or visit www.gpt.org.