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For me, it was a one-shouldered floral pink tunic.

I wore it to the premiere of an independent film in which I was featured. Accompanying me that evening was an older female producer friend I was living with while she recovered from an injury.

The film, alas, was a bomb; the friend, who had always been competitive with me, seemed to enjoy my humiliation. At the after-party, I discovered she had betrayed me professionally in a huge way. We had a screaming fight on the way home. I moved out the next day, and our friendship was over.

I could never bring myself to wear that pink top again.

Nearly every female has a similar emotionally charged story or two about articles of clothing, which is part of what makes Coyote StageWorks’ Love, Loss, and What I Wore so satisfying. Men (straight men, at least) may not get it, but women do: What we’re wearing during a major life-changing event can never be separated from the event itself.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore, written by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron, is based on a book by Ilene Beckerman. The play is a series of monologues using a cast of five women. When it was produced off-Broadway in 2009, the cast included Tyne Daly and Rosie O’Donnell. In 2010, it won the Broadway.com Audience Award for Favorite New Off-Broadway Play.

The five women, all dressed in black, sit on chairs downstage and occasionally refer to their scripts while relaying tales of first dates, bad marriages, divorce, death and fashion-challenged mothers.

Gingy (Gloria Loring) serves as the narrator. Gingy shares with the audience the way her wardrobe has marked important times in her life—starting with her Brownie uniform—and how easily such memories can be triggered. We learn of her three marriages, the death of one of her six kids (“Your son has expired,” the hospital tells her in a phone call), and her contentment in becoming a grandmother.

Loring—known to many as Liz Chandler on Days of Our Lives, to others for singing the hit duet “Friends and Lovers” with Carl Anderson, and to yet others as the mother of pop-sensation Robin Thicke—is wonderful. She exudes warmth and humor throughout the production, and pulls off the dramatic moments with skill. (Her breezy handling of a malfunctioning microphone at the top of the show on opening night set just the right tone.)

Mo Gaffney, who plays Gingy’s mother, among other characters, is hilarious. One of the evening’s highlights is her diatribe on purses, and how she can never keep hers tidy and organized. Her description of a friend who was trapped in a Paris café during a rainstorm so her $6,000 Grace Kelly handbag wouldn’t get ruined is priceless. Gaffney, a stage and film veteran, is the definition of a seasoned professional.  She’s magical onstage and makes it look easy.

Olympic gymnast-turned-actress Cathy Rigby is also terrific in multiple roles. She’s vulnerable and effective in a scene with Bets Malone as her lesbian lover, during which the two are deciding what to wear for their wedding. At another point, she recalls every stitch of clothing her character had on when she followed an abusive boyfriend to Seattle, begged him repeatedly to stay, and then finally mustered up the guts to dump the jerk.

Though not as well-known as the headliners, Malone is an amazingly versatile actress. She makes the most of a vignette comparing the loss of a favorite shirt to the end of a romantic relationship (“I just had to cherish the time I had with the shirt and move on”) and rivets us as a cancer survivor who decides to get a tattoo on her reconstructed breast.

Rounding out the cast is Elaine Hayhurst, also in several roles, including the girlfriend of a Chicago gang member. She shines in bits about choosing between wearing high heels or “thinking” shoes, and the trauma of having an unwanted audience of saleswomen help her buy a new bra. (All five women share amusing dressing-room angst: ”Oh my God, my butt fell!” and “This doesn’t fit, but I always lose weight in May.”)

Director Toni Kotite brings out the best in the cast. Each actress creates believable, likable characters whose stories draw us in, and the chemistry among the group is genuine. The tasteful lighting and simple set are perfect. Artistic director Chuck Yates once again has turned in a top-notch piece of theater, with a stellar cast and fabulous production values.

One of my pet peeves when attending plays these days is the tendency for audiences to jump to their feet at the end of every show, even when it’s mediocre or just plain awful. But the standing ovation Coyote StageWorks’ production of Love, Loss, and What I Wore received the night I saw it was richly deserved.

This play will make you laugh and cry—and perhaps make you wonder why you’re REALLY hanging on to those bell bottoms from junior high.

Coyote Stageworks’ Love, Loss, and What I Wore is performed at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, through Saturday, April 5, at the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Drive, Palm Springs. Tickets are $39 to $55, and the running time is 90 minutes, with no intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-325-4490, or go to www.annenbergtheater.org

Published in Theater and Dance