During Tuesday’s dress rehearsal, five women sat in straight-backed chairs in a row. They all wore black, but some chose loose slacks, some a pencil skirt and some a leather jacket with pumps.
There were no restrictions on jewelry, so some opted for a statement necklace or earrings.
The all-black dress code allows the actors to play different characters in Cardinal Stage Company’s “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” which opens Friday.
“I don’t have one name, I play multiple characters,” cast member Jessika Hane said. “A lot of times, we are women all together talking about one thing, like organizing our closets or bra shopping. We’re voices for women.”
Hane, human resources director at Oliver Winery and the vice president of Cardinal, is one of the 16 Bloomington women in the cast that rotates each night.
Each woman is a prominent member of the community, from IU’s First Lady Laurie Burns McRobbie to two-time Grammy winner Sylvia McNair.
The play, adapted from a novel by Ilene Beckerman, is a stage reading. The actors sit or stand with little other movement and read from music stands in front of them, as if reading their own stories. The stories, which are real but are not the actors’ own, are presented in the form of short sketches, monologues or snippets of lines spoken by all the women onstage.
“Every person in the audience will be able to relate to it, especially from a woman’s perspective,” Hane said. “There’s a whole piece about shopping for your first bra, and we all have fond or frustrating memories about that. There’s a ton of stuff that you can relate to in this show, and clothing is that universal thread that ties it all together.”
In the show, clothes are shown to be able to empower women, cast member Lori Garraghty said. This ability of clothing to push women to take the next step in their lives is exactly the mission of My Sister’s Closet, with whom Cardinal is partnering for this production.
The show serves as a fundraiser for My Sister’s Closet, and Cardinal has pledged to donate $2,500 in the actress’ names to the thrift store, with a goal of $5,000 the audience can contribute to.
Garraghty, who enjoyed her boarding school uniform days because of their simplicity, also acknowledges clothing’s power.
“I can get up and I can put on my makeup, do my hair, shower and drink coffee in 30 minutes, and I’ve worked hard to not have to spend a lot of time on it,” Garraghty said. “It takes me another 30 minutes just to figure out what I’m going to wear, because it is a huge struggle for me. But it is what it is.”
In one of the “clotheslines,” where the women pass short lines up and down the row of chairs, each line is something a woman has heard in her life: You’d look so pretty if you..., put on some lipstick, took off that makeup, gained weight, lost weight.
The stories in the play reflect how a woman sees herself, what she hears, what is important to her and the relationships that she has, and everyone can identify with that, Garraghty said.
And it’s not limited to women — any man with a woman in his life, whether a girlfriend, mother or sister, can recognize the stories.
“Almost everyone has had love in their life and has had loss, but whether or not what they wore was significant to them is questionable,” Garraghty said. “For me, what I was wearing during particular key points in my life has never been really high on my radar. I was concerned that I wouldn’t identify with the script, but it is really more about the love and the loss, the human experience.”
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