Combing the Internet a few weeks ago, author Ilene Beckerman came across a casting call from the Southampton Cultural Center for a production of "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," a play based on her book of the same name.
She decided to take a shot in the dark, and reached out to director Michael Disher.
“I though to myself, wow … I wonder if I could ever play myself. I've never done anything like this," Beckerman said. "So I emailed Michael and I said, ‘Could I audition?' … He said, 'You don’t have to audition, just come.'"
She came to Southampton from her hometown of Hampton, N.J., on Wednesday, rehearsed, and made her theater debut at opening night Thursday. “I’m not an actress,” she said after the performance. "I am 77 and this is the first time I’ve ever been on a stage like that.”
Beckerman took the role of Gingy, the narrator, a character modeled after herself and her life. With a total of five women on stage, the play is a series of vignettes, all about the feelings and memories a certain outfit or piece of clothing can evoke. The stories are quick, sometimes funny, sometimes sad — and often both. Each story introduces a new character, so cast members change their attitudes and affectations rapidly. Sometimes two actresses tell a story concurrently, volleying back and forth. Gingy ties it all together, with Beckerman's illustrations on a projector screen.
“It’s scary — imagine your life, if all of a sudden all your private information was on stage," Beckerman said. "It’s kind of embarrassing.”
She said she was very nervous about staying on script, to give the other actresses their cues. But everything went smoothly, and the only interruptions came when the crowd broke out in uproarious laughter at a great one-liner or hilarious story.
“Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” the book, was published in 1995. It was Beckerman’s first. She said that, at the time, she was so shy she couldn’t even raise her hand at a PTA meeting, but she found herself on a book tour.
Although the book was taken from her memories, Beckerman said, it wasn’t about her. “It’s supposed to make you think about your own life,” she said. She joked that her life wasn’t that interesting, in that she saved the rain forest, or even been groped by a politician. "I was just a 60-year-old grandmother from New Jersey," she said during a talkback with the audience following the performance.
The play came about when the late Nora Ephron, the screenwriter behind “When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle," and other popular films, optioned both Beckerman’s first book and her second book, “What We Do for Love.” Ephron, and her sister, Delia Ephron, adapted “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” for the stage, adding anecdotes from their own experiences and from their friends’ lives.
“She thought that maybe it would last for three months off-Broadway," Beckerman said of Nora Ephron. "It lasted for two and a half years and it won a Drama Desk Award.”
Before the off-Broadway run, the play originated in Bridgehampton in 2008, at the Bridgehampton Community Hall, presented by Guild Hall while Guild Hall's East Hampton theater was under renovation. From the very beginning, it was customary for the cast to change and rotate frequently.
Beckerman shared the stage Thursday with Barbara Jo Howard, Deborah Marshall, Catherine Maloney and Bethany Dellapolla. It was one-night engagement in Southampton for Beckerman, though she will reprise the role in February for three nights in Chester, N.J.
For the remaining Southampton Cultural Center performances, Brooke Alexander, Paula Brannon and Susan Cincotta will step into the role of Gingy on different weekends. Rounding out the cast are Susan Wojcik, Katie Lee, Gretta Monahan and Edna Perez Winston.
Learn more about Ilene Beckerman at ilenebeckerman.com.
Performances of "Love, Loss and What I Wore" run through Jan. 27, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the Southampton Cultural Center in Southampton Village. General admission is $22. For students under 21 with ID, admission is $12. Group rates are available and reservations are encouraged.
To purchase tickets, call 631-287-4377 or visit scc-arts.org.