x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Nora Ephron's Love, Loss and What I Wore in Dubai

Nora Ephron, the rom-com screenwriter behind When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, died last year, but her gentle touch and humour will be explored in a performance of her successful stage play Love, Loss and What I Wore in Dubai this week.

Nora Ephron in 2009. Nancy Kaszerman / EPA
Nora Ephron in 2009. Nancy Kaszerman / EPA

“I have nothing to wear,” laments Gingy in an echo familiar to every woman around the world. “Nothing,” the three other women sitting alongside her agree emphatically.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore, on show at Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre (Ductac) this week, is, of course, not just about the outfits.

They form a backdrop and accessorise the tales told by the play’s protagonists as they describe the heartache, the discovery of new loves and the tragedies in their lives.

Written by Nora Ephron and her sister Delia and based on a book by Ilene Beckerman, the play features the classic touches that made the late American screenwriter such a genius at evoking the tragicomedy of relationships.

The quips and witty one-liners come as thick and fast as they do in her hit Hollywood movies, from When Harry Met Sally... to Sleepless in Seattle and Julie & Julia, but are married with the same poignant undertones as the humour juxtaposes heartbreak.

Gingy recalls the taffeta dresses she wore when falling in love with a succession of husbands. Holly remembers the grey pilgrim dress given to her by her mother, which is given away by her stepmother when her father remarries.

And you could hear a pin drop when, in one of the series of monologues, a character movingly tells how all her days were coloured beige – including her wardrobe – after her son died.

That understated elegance and economy in the language she used give Ephron a timeless appeal which has outlived her death in June last year.

“It is a beautiful mix of different stories with Ephron’s observational humour,” says the co-director Joseph Fowler. “She gets the vulnerability of women. Her appeal is that you recognise yourself in what she says. Everyone can relate to it. “In Dubai, people might be drawn to the show because of the shopping and fashion aspect but in reality, it is not about clothes. They are a universal language used to trigger stories and a series of memories.”

The award-winning play was first produced in East Hampton, New York, in 2008 and has enjoyed a long off-Broadway run with a rotating cast of stellar names, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Glenn Close, Rita Wilson, Rosie O’Donnell and Parker Posey.

Four or five women tell 28 stories in a stage reading adapted by the Ephron sisters from the book and mixed with tales from their own circle of friends.

Its cast in Dubai, four professional actresses who are all based locally, are dressed entirely in black so as not to distract from the emotion of their tales – albeit while wearing fabulous black stilettos. “Your clothes express who you are,” says cast member Ellen-Gayle Harwood, 35.

An outfit, adds Christine Kempell, 46, who plays the narrator Gingy, can either give you a confidence boost or ruin your day. “The clothes are just a way of talking about everything else,” she says. “Everyone can connect with the humour.”

Tellingly, the cast members – who hail from England, Scotland, Wales and America – have only met for the second time but are soon cackling over shared experiences involving wardrobe malfunctions or successes.

Pauline Milroy, 30, recalls a memorable night when she wore Louboutins and a black cloche hat, Harwood remembers feeling fabulous in a knockout dress and Kempell says she dresses for comfort after having children.

“We are from different areas but we can sit here and laugh at the same stories,” says Eliza Raum, 25. “These themes are universal.”

Fowler and his co-director Ferne Reynolds deliberately picked women ranging in age from their 20s to their 40s to encapsulate every stage in a woman’s life.

At its heart, says Fowler, the play is about strong women and their ability to survive life’s ebb and flow, giving the four actresses a rare chance to play empowered female characters, roles that are often absent in the entertainment industry.

It is no coincidence that the four-night run includes International Women’s Day on Friday.

“The text is honest, frank and direct,” he says. “Ephron was great at writing strong female roles.”

Kempell, who has played another strong role as Rita in Educating Rita in the UK, says those parts are rare for actresses. “It is difficult to find roles where women are not victimised or over-sexualised,” she adds. “I have never been in a play with an all-female cast.”

But Fowler says with the increasing popularity of male grooming, there is plenty for men to enjoy in the play: “Men have these dilemmas about what to wear, too. It used to be taboo for men to put anything on their faces other than soap and water but those days are gone.”

Ultimately, according to Raum, Ephron’s delicate blend of sentimentality with a large dose of humour thrown in, told through a range of outfits, crosses cultural divides. “Clothes don’t make the woman,” she says, “but they certainly tell a story.”

Love, Loss, and What I Wore runs from Wednesday until Saturday, starting at 8pm in the Kilachand studio theatre, Ductac, Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. Tickets are priced from Dh100 to Dh150 and can be booked by calling 04 341 4777 or by e-mailing box.office@ductac.org

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