By Rachel Howell
Coralville - City Circle's Love, Loss and What I Wore gives the audience a peek into the lives of women through monologues and quippy one-liner conversations.
As a woman, it's very easy to listen to and agree with much of what is performed. I myself have said those same things while looking in the mirror in the changing room. I've had those hopes skittering through my brain when passing a crush. I've wrestled with ill-fitting bras and I've lost half of my life in the abyss of a purse. I've stood for too many minutes, looking into my dark, over-filled, over-FLOWING closet and shouted: I HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR! Don't lie: you have too.
The preshow includes images projected on a large screen surrounded by draped fabric, taking up the majority of the visual onstage, with a few nice couches and chairs arranged below it. Pictures of Audrey and Katherine Hepburn graced the screen. Chanel. Greta Garbo. Madonna. Even Paula Abdul made a cameo. It was a lovely glance at these women who have made lasting impressions and ushered the evolution of fashion as we know it today.
There were a dozen women performing, all incredibly talented, who carried the show through a rollercoaster of highs and lows, fear and excitement, love and loss. Each woman wearing a different style of black dress, keeping them all individual, yet connecting them through a central truth: one can never go fashionably wrong in black.
Monologue scripts can be difficult to maneuver through at times. So many funny and beautiful stories are told, but there is very little to hold them together. Each woman is tasked with gaining the attention of the onlookers right on the heels of a completely different (though always woman-centered) tale and it can cause a large amount of static throughout the piece. Transitions seemed a bit cold or clunky, even jolting at times. Paula Grady’s Gingy pieces were meant to create a frame for the show, but it wasn’t enough for this reviewer. The audience doesn’t get a plot to cling to, which makes for an awkward ending to the show as well (it is very difficult to end something which doesn’t have the beginning and middle that the general public is accustomed to having).
The women originally come out in a sort of "meet & greet," shaking each other's hands as if meeting for the first time, each carrying a wine glass, with a plate of strawberries placed on a coffee table center stage. But, I wanted more wine and more eating, adding a familiarity between them. There was a tentative nature to the women when someone was performing a monologue, but I knew that a room full of women drinking and eating would be more boisterous, vocal, fun. I wanted to hear them commit to agreeing with the speaking person, repeat what they said in humor or horror, touch each other in support, but any of this that did occur was lack luster and unsupported. There was a conversationality that was missing from the piece on a whole. The portions where the women were all chiming in seemed more energized, though suffered from pacing issues. That, combined with some awkward staging, worked against the intimacy the show needs to convey. It separated the women on stage more than drew them together which, in turn, created a disconnect between the performers and the audience. More interaction and comfort on stage would have also acted as an audience guide, showing us how they react and leading us to join them, essentially inviting us into that room where they’re all sitting instead of keeping us looking in through the bay window.
Several performances really stood out. Mary Rinderspacher delivered her piece with an adorable honesty that was difficult to resist. It was hard to imagine her doing anything other than performing for an audience as I watched her work through her monologue with ease and confidence. I look forward to seeing her perform again soon!
Kathy Maxey was a joy to watch. She interacted with many of the other women, straying from the staged norm of a center stage monologue delivery, and moved about the space, drawing in the audience as well as the others sharing the stage with her. Her honesty was lovely to watch and the show really came alive in her hands. It was a treat to watch her even when she wasn't the center of attention as her ability to listen was simply unmatched and she remained invested in every woman and every story told.
Robyn Calhoun delivered a beautiful piece towards the end of the production. When you go into a show about women, you know there are certain buzz issues that will be showcased: body image, rape, breast cancer, etc. It would be so easy for an actor to wallow in the tragic nature of some of the topics brought up. But, Robyn navigates her piece with a respect that I believe many victims of cancer would be able relate to. She was vulnerable and specific and fought her tears. The actor in me knows how good it can feel to give in to emotions, but that's not what makes a performance dynamic. It's the fight. And Robyn gave that to us.
Honorable mention also goes out to the work of Ramya Hipp, Krista Neumann, and Leslie Nolte.
Though it would be sad to lose any of these amazing actors, I wonder if a smaller cast would have allowed for more dynamic staging, more connections between the women on stage, and let the audience to really connect with the individuals more (especially had they each been given more to say; more than a few minutes for the audience to get to know them). The original casting suggests five women, and though the twelve on the CCPA stage were each wonderful to watch, I think if the work had been more concentrated, it could have better served the piece on the whole.
Though there may be some flaws with this production, it remains a wonderful celebration of women and is actually pretty relatable to both genders. My partner, who sports different machinery than I do, found himself drawn into the stories even though he's never been through the embarrassment of wearing white while menstruating. And, truly, this show is a wonderful chance to see so much local female talent in an incredible venue and it will definitely get you talking!
Love, Loss, and What I Wore runs at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts February 14-16, 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets available here. Information on the outreach efforts associated with this performance is available here.