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Fire Hall explores women's relationships through prism of wardrobe

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Sam Mills, as "Grandma Gingy," tells a story about a special dress she wore as a young woman. Mills is one of nine women cast members in the play, "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," which opens this weekend at the Fire Hall Theatre. (Photo by Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald)2 / 3
Theresa Knox plays the leader of a female gang and other characters in the play, "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," at the Fire Hall Theatre. In the background is Erin Hendrickson. (Photo by Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald) 3 / 3

The Fire Hall Theatre's production, "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," explores women's relationships through the prism of the clothing that held special meaning at turning points in their lives.

The play, which launches the theater's 71st season, is sure to resonate with females of any age who have ever had a dress, a purse or a pair of boots they couldn't forget or couldn't part with, because of the significant memory it conjures, said Kathy Coudle-King, the show's director.

"It's all about the stories we're telling," said Coudle-King, executive director of the Fire Hall Theatre. "It's really powerful, but also really funny at the same time."

Running the next three weekends, the play consists of a cast of nine women presenting monologues and vignettes that are alternately funny and heartbreaking, using clothing as a kind of time-capsule of a woman's life.

The characters touch on topics such as sexual assault, breast cancer and mother loss, Coudle-King said. "There is some sensitive material, and there's a little swearing, not a lot."

For each show, the cast is joined by two people from the community who give cameo performances. The cameos are presented by different people at each show.

Not about fashion

The play is not about fashion but rather the memories that certain garments or accessories evoke, even over a lifetime. It explores the emotions—from joy to confidence to embarrassment—that wearing them produces.

The show also includes series of one-liners that capture women's thoughts about clothes or appearance—such as the comments mothers are universally known to make, Coudle-King said.

"Never wear white after Labor Day"; "Are you really going to wear that?" or "I don't understand, you could look so good if you tried."

"The topic of mothers comes up again and again," she said.

In one monologue, the character describes, with horror, the outfit her mother bought her when she was a teenager, she says. "Can you imagine? An outfit? No one wears an outfit."

"It makes me look like you," she accuses.

The scenes that convey the angst women experience in the fitting room and the challenges in the process of buying a bra "really made us laugh," Coudle-King said. "The bra stories are just hysterical."

Poignant moments are reflected in the stories of a mother's mental illness and the death of one's mother, and how those matters were not discussed by families in the past, she said. "Those two pieces really stood out for me and continue to kind of tug on my heart-strings."

Celebrating women's beauty

Coudle-King added a “stage picture” to the play which underscores the monologue and is “all about celebrating women’s beauty,” she said.

A grandmother, played by Sam Mills, is passing down her love of clothes and jewelry to her granddaughter, who is played by Emily Prescott this weekend; by Amelia Dodds, Nov. 9-11; and Mila Drago, Nov. 15-17.

Throughout the play, Mills portrays the grandmother at different stages of her life, starting as a young girl.

She has appeared in several Fire Hall productions, she said, noting that "this one really spoke to me—I have clothes that have memories."

Also, "the all-women cast appealed to me," she said.

Mills and other members of the cast "have been telling stories about our own clothes—whether it's about sisters or mothers or husbands or children, the dialogue (in the play) sparks memories for all of us," she said.

Other cast members are: Amanda Braxton, Alison Ciekliniski, Erin Hendrickson, Theresa Knox, Meg McGuire, Bonnie Schonemier, Mare Thompson and Tina Wilkening.

The Fire Hall is inviting audience members to bring new pajamas and socks which will be donated to the Community Violence Intervention Center, Coudle-King said.

With support from the Women's Fund, a component of the Grand Forks Community Foundation, Coudle-King also plans to create "a digital book of essays, based on the question, 'What's in your closet?' " she said. The project is expected to appear on the theater's website Monday.

"Love, Loss, and What I Wore" is co-produced with Home of Economy, which has partnered on Fire Hall productions for the past four years, she said.

'Unique theatrical experience'

The play, written by sisters Nora and Delia Ephron, is based on a book by Ilene Beckerman. Nora Ephron, who wrote an introduction to the book, said "it is about what clothes really are to us, those moments when we are constantly trying to find our identity through them."

After opening off-Broadway in 2009, the play garnered the 2010 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience as well as the 2010 Broadway.com Audience Award for Favorite New Off-Broadway Play.

"I've been telling our actors to feel like they're talking with people in their own living rooms," said Coudle-King.

For audience members, the play "may not reflect your experience, but it will generate your own stories," she said. "It's an interactive kind of theater. I think that's what makes it a unique theatrical experience."

What: 'Love, Loss, and What I Wore'

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 17

Where: Fire Hall Theatre, 412 Second Ave. N., Grand Forks

Tickets: Adults, $16. Students, seniors and military, $13. Fire Hall box office opens one hour prior to curtain time. Tickets may also be purchased by calling (701) 777-4090 or visiting the Chester Fritz Auditorium box office between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. (Recommended for mature audiences, due to some sensitive subject matter.)

Dinner and show option: On Thursdays, theater-goers can purchase a package that includes dinner at Mamma Maria's Italian Restaurant and the performance for $38 per person, or $25 per person for season ticket holders. Dinner begins at 5:45 p.m.

For more information: Visit www.ggfct.com.

For each performance, two people in the community have been invited to give cameo appearances. They are:

Friday - Kathy Fick and Melissa Gjelstad

Saturday - Yvonne Kalka and Amanda Kalka Braxton

Sunday - Dawn Botsford and Karen Naastad

Nov. 8 - Ruth Pederson and Becca Dawn Cruger

Nov. 9 - Janessa Jaye Champagne and Maura Ferguson

Nov. 10 - Joy Vaagne and Jill Vaagne Wamstad

Nov. 11 - Jackie Hoffarth and Nikki Berg Burin

Nov. 15 - Amy Lyste and Cynthia Prom

Nov. 16 - Heather Werner and Natalie Muth

Nov. 17 - Connie Hodgson and Melody Colucci

On opening night, Thursday, Kristi Hall Jiran and Becky Ronkowski gave cameo performances.

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