Clothes can have as much to do with life itself as with fashion statements. Former advertising agency vice president Ilene Beckerman chronicled her own such perceptions as well as those of other women in her memoir “Love, Loss & What I Wore” (1995). Nora and Delia Ephron adapted the insights of the veteran Jewish journalist (now in her eighties) into an alternately amusing and touching chronicle (2008) of the same name that became an off-Broadway hit and a 2010 Drama Desk Award-winner for Unique Theatrical Experience. Now the Hub Theatre Company of Boston is dressing Club Café with this sartorially savvy work in an exuberant ensemble effort.
Director Paula Plum (herself one of the Hub’s finest actresses) has caught the show’s singular combination of wit and wisdom. She gets strong performances from the rotating cast called on for demanding monologues, duo and trio set pieces, and ensemble sequences. That talented quintet – Nettie Chickering, Barbara Douglass, Lauren Elias, Evelyn Holley and June Kfoury – sport colorful boas from costume designer Kat Lawrence as they jauntily enter the intimate Club Café to the Eurythmics hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Designer Talia Elise joins in with audience-surrounding strobe lighting and giant pink neon hangers on stage. A stage-right clothes rack holds a wide variety of drawings of outfits connected to the characters’ experiences.
Acting as a kind of returning narrator is Jewish New York native Gingy (with ginger-colored hair), who observes that “these dresses tell a story.” The Beckerman-based character details fond memories of her childhood years in the Brownies, wearing perfume at age 12, outfits connected with her very different relationships and marriages, and a classic Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress for her advertising agency work. Kfoury captures Gingy’s warmth, winning candor and strong family ties – particularly as she speaks of her grandmother, aunt and four-year-old daughter, who enjoys wearing Gingy’s old outfits.
As the unusual play’s title suggests, the outfits relate directly to Gingy and other women’s memories of romance – both satisfying and failed – and the ups and downs of being adolescents, mothers and wives. The quintet sharply catalogues maternal advice – including never wearing red and the idea that nice Jewish girls do not get their ears pierced. Another advisory cautions to never wear velvet before Rosh Hashana. Timing and delivery are also crisp when the ensemble speaks of challenges with bras, outfits that do not seem to fit, picking the right wedding dress and insisting on black outfits as chic fashion statements. They move with high energy to Madonna’s catchy “Vogue.”
Aside from Kfoury’s radiant Gingy, there are special set pieces from all cast members. Elias makes the most of evocations of prom dresses. She also gives vivid expression to a humorous put-down of purses that involves an expensive Kelly (Grace Kelly, that is) one and a very reasonable “Charlie Card” bag. Chickering brings virtuosic verve to a fashion dilemma: whether to wear arch-damaging heels or healthier choices like Birkenstocks. Douglass is a hoot describing the hazards of the briefly trendy paper dress. Holley makes the situation and needs of a chemo patient very moving.
In playbill notes, director Plum expresses the hope that “you will share with us the joy of this delightful little play.” Thanks to the delightful Hub Theatre Company ensemble of joyfully sisterlike and individually inspired actresses, “Love, Loss, & What I Wore” is a perfect fit. Θ
At Club Café through August 5. All tickets for all shows, pay-what-you-can. Visit hubtheatreboston.org. (Donations of new and gently worn clothing will be collected at each show for local charities.)