Without five savvy, capable actresses breezily skimming over stories of doubtful originality, Nora and Delia Ephron's Love, Loss & What I Wore, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Second Stage until Oct. 4, wouldn't have a chance. Any attempt to relate the Ephrons' shallow musings on the hazards of being female to anything more than mindless jouissance would be doomed.
Fortunately, FAC artistic director Scott RC Levy and show director Eve Tilley have assembled a solid ensemble that clearly gets it, and their touch is sure-handed and playful.
Dressed formally in black, they're a recital quintet without instruments, situated across a bare stage on tall chairs facing front. Four of the five actresses cycle through various characters in the course of the evening, and yet rarely engage in more than supportive crossfire with each other; the stories, furnished with prosy, familiar details, are performed as if on flute, solo to solo. Those stories are noticeably better suited to the page than the stage — Love is adapted from a book by Ilene Beckerman — but the FAC's cast consistently elicits sharp, gutsy laughter from the audience.
As Gingy, Amy Brooks plays a grown New Yorker looking back with surprisingly wry detachment on a pinched, claustrophobic adolescence. As a girl, Gingy was bombarded with superstitious warnings from her distressed working mother. She was terrorized into her first bra by Mom's fierce omen of "pendulum breasts," and coldly reminded that "a rich man is as easy to fall in love with as a poor one," among other bits of advice. Gingy apparently responded with impulsive serial marriages, settling finally on someone named Stanley, an invasive species of male within the ad agency where she's landed.
She, like her onstage counterparts, connects her growing pains and experiences to the clothing worn or acquired at the time. The result is a kind of adult show-and-tell, complete with easel and changing illustrations, and it's all kept innocent fun.
As Gingy's mom, Birgitta DePree weighs in on the American Jewish mother archetype hilariously; her character towers over the stage like a Macy's parade dirigible. DePree is to Gingy a constant succession of broadsides against perfume and sex, till she suddenly dies. What kills her is not revealed; Gingy just moves on, and DePree just moves on to play another character.
A roller coaster of similar episodes, all related to clothes and fashion, picks up Joye Cook-Levy, Marisa Hebert and Kelly Cole. The Ephrons do well in keeping these episodes from becoming a predictable hit-list of Clinton-era feminism and mishaps. Tales of prison visitations to boyfriends, the purchase of knee-high boots, unreturnable birthday presents and comparable moments are revisited with unstinting thoroughness, while threats, rules and prophesies of physical decay are issued rapid-fire in between: "Nice Jewish girls don't get their ears pierced." "Always wear clean underwear in case you're in a car accident!"
Cook-Levy and Hebert excel in stories of menstrual mishaps, date rape and mastectomies at age 27; they dextrously balance DePree's more freehanded antics. Hebert's retelling of a callous physician prepping her for breast surgery is powerful, and lingers.
Men do figure into the women's lives in Love, but as accessories like cuff links, not as meaningful companions. All we hear about Gingy's father, for instance, is the usefulness of his handsome looks in obtaining customer service at Bloomingdale's.
Where to direct your deepest feelings and attachments? A pair of boots or colorful hat are more dependable and deserving in Love, and the supply is inexhaustible. The response: thunderous applause.