Tyne Daly, Rosie O'Donnell, Samantha Bee, Katie Finneran
and Natasha Lyonne in Love, Loss, and What I Wore
(© Carol Rosegg)
Tyne Daly, Rosie O'Donnell, Samantha Bee, Katie Finneran
and Natasha Lyonne in Love, Loss, and What I Wore
(© Carol Rosegg)
Proust had his madeleines. Women have, as touchstones to memory, every item of clothing they've ever worn. Taste -- in the physical, sensory realm -- may be one surefire link to recalling le temps perdu, but women who've wrestled throughout their lives with questions of taste in the fashion sense know that every garment tells a story. That's one big reason that women (and most men, who have their own colorful history of fashion triumphs and faux pas) will readily relate to the themes of Love, Loss, and What I Wore, now at the Westside Theatre. So insightful and entertaining is this survey of sartorial preoccupations and the deeper questions underlying them that multiple viewings would be advisable.

Jumping off from Ilene Beckerman's minimalist 1995 memoir of the same name, Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron have bulked up their script with multiple points of view -- a la The Vagina Monologues -- with a broader focus on body image in general. The result, especially under Karen Carpenter's fluid direction, is a series of touching and often hilarious vignettes that any actress would gladly rip into. No wonder the play has attracted three rotating A-list casts for its three-month run -- although it's hard to imagine the quintet on view now, Tyne Daly, Rosie O'Donnell, Samantha Bee, Katie Finneran, and Natasha Lyonne, ever being bested.

In the current configuration, Daly gets the ball rolling by telling tales to accompany a rack of poster-size illustrations drawn from the book. Standing in for Beckerman, she's the one through-line character: "Gingy," an Upper East Side matron who creates this legacy because she wants her children to know that "I wasn't always their mother. I was a girl, I had best friends, we did stupid things." Daly is marvelous as the rebellious girl-self, as a young woman who married perhaps foolishly and definitely too young, and ultimately as an older woman who regrets the disappearance of the clothing-store chain called "The Forgotten Woman," a resource she's convinced would come in handy now that she has become one.

O'Donnell is so superb in her segments that one can't help wishing she'd never gotten sidetracked by hosting duties and instead devoted herself to acting full-time. The tale she tells of a bra-fitting ordeal in a certain Upper West Side shop is a comic gem -- and one which she fully physicalizes.

Bee, Finneran, and Lyonne often work as a trio, when a litany of musings is called for, but each also handles her monologues exquisitely. Lyonne brings her bad-girl smolder to the story of a girl who acquires a gang sweater, while Finneran gets right to the heart of a devastating reminiscence about a pair of boots, acquired in adolescence, that "were the answer to my need to be identified as a brooding, wounded, but potentially brilliant artistic subspecies of female with practically no genetic relationship to my miserable screaming family." Bee, a Daily Show regular, is the surprise card in this cast: She's vivid, incisive, and attentively keyed in -- as are all the players -- to the ensemble gestalt.