Nora Ephron: “Love, Loss and What I Wore” and What I Learned
It was a sunny day in March when my close, battle-scarred, divorced friend and colleague, Patricia Park, asked me, “Do you want to go to an off-Broadway show at the Westside Theatre by Nora Ephron and her sister, Delia, about women?” I instinctively replied, “You must be kidding.” Being a wise and patient woman she described the play which is about five women sharing women’s memories of daily, common experiences ranging from buying shoes to their first bra to selecting a wedding dress. She then added that, since I’m now writing on many aspects of American life, shouldn’t I be interested in hearing what women have to say about themselves cleverly expressed in common events that affect their lives. Pat told me that Nora Ephron is a highly respected author with a sense of humor. (She knows that I’m a sucker for a healthy sense of humor).
So the next day into my car we went, buckled our seat belts, headed to the Lincoln Tunnel and Manhattan’s West Side.
The theater was small and comfortable, about 200 seats. I estimated that there were about 150 women and 5 men, the latter of which, I guesstimated, were there because of the persuasion of their women companions. But who knows? On stage, facing the audience, were 5 empty chairs. Unlike the Metropolitan Opera House, I felt very close to where the action was about to unfold, which is a big plus. Then, to the sound of stimulating music, all five ladies entered stage with theatrical aplomb. The ladies in the audience went very wild with stentorian applause mixed with sounds of exciting chatter both of which, for intuitive reasons, gave me a feeling that I was going to encounter something more than I had expected.
Then, for me, the somewhat long but interesting 90 minutes began. The five lady actresses were in top form and comfortably played off each other. The chemistry among them was palpable. I sensed that this was due to their shared experiences which they also, in turn, wanted to share with the ladies. I’m not sure how they felt about the five men or even thought about them. Each delivered a monologue interspersed with an occasional dialogue dealing with open toe shoes, trying on girdles, trying to find an item in a large purse- that was a big hit!-and selecting a wedding dress among others. A side issue scene on the greatness of Madonna was met with wild enthusiasm which I still haven’t caught.
Very frequent, intermittent wild applause coupled with uproarious laughter continued throughout the show. Like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie so please forgive me for I found little to laugh about. Maybe it’s because I don’t try on girdles and opened toed shoes. The scene closest to evoking a genuine smile and also the one that evoked the loudest applause and laughter was the pocket book scene. The actress, in my opinion, was not using the Stanislavski method of acting but emotionally displaying her true feelings of frustration trying to find the elusive items in it. But once more, I never had this experience for it was always easy to find the polish in my shoe-shine box and my stethoscope in my medical bag.
During the show I would now and then check out the four other men. They all wore broad smiles but none was bursting with laughter. Maybe if I looked more frequently their smiles would have turned to laughter or even disappeared when their lady companions were not looking.
Back to my intuition: It was right on target! In addition to talking about women’s common problems, much of the dialogue was anti-male and, to a lesser extent, anti- traditional marriage. I believe all five were divorced and most multiple times. All of the divorced husbands were, in one way or another, inadequate. One gal was married three times and had five children during her second marriage to a “nice guy”. But she fell in love with a third guy, had an affair and then divorced the nice guy to marry the affair guy. (At that point I wondered what her tremendous feminine allure was to convince a man to marry a woman with 5 children. Maybe the nice guy kept them, but we’ll never know). One woman confessed to having almost orgasmic (who knows?) fantasies when thinking that her husband was in a serious accident. She turned on, for example, every time he was unexpectedly late hoping for the worse.
The pocket book lady, speaking softly, said that her parents were married for 53 years. Only a few sighs of approval were heard. But then the actress suddenly raised her voice volume and bitterly announced, “It was a miserable 53 years!” And the audience went wild with applause. There was then an emotional marriage scene between two lesbians. One of the lesbians called her parent’s homophobes instead of just saying they were against homosexual marriage which is understandable.
There was a touching scene of the experience of undergoing a mastectomy but what struck me was the doctor who performed the operation was a female.
After the play came to a close there was a standing ovation, thunderous applause and shouts of approval.
Afterwards, Pat and I went to Amarone, a local Italian restaurant, and sat at the bar for drinks and dinner. The bartender or barista was a 25 year old, attractive intelligent Russian immigrant. We were philosophizing about life and changing man-woman relationships. She commented, “Most of my lady friends are afraid to give our hearts away these days. Love may not be forever anymore.”
While driving back home I thought to myself, “Wow! The ladies in the audience were like fish in water understanding and emotionally identifying themselves with the ladies on stage and their messages of life’s difficulties from trying on girdles to marriage.” Then I thought of wise old Plato who, about 2000 years ago, wrote, “I’m glad I’m not a woman.”
That night, as usual for many senior citizens, my eyes opened wide at about mid-morning and off I went to the kitchen for my not so reliable sleeping remedy- cold cereal with raisins floating in milk. I wondered what the theme of a similarly structured play would attract men to attend without their wives or honeybuns dragging them there for suddenly I had interest in writing one. I was stumped. Get ready: The only theme I could think of was sex. But, I hate to say, it could not only be conversational! Do any of you have any ideas?
A couple of days later, Pat and I were working on the website. During our coffee break I asked her whether she knew anything more about Nora Ephron since she is the spirit behind the play’s story. Pat loved reading her two books “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman” and “I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections” and has given them as gifts to her girlfriends when they needed a good laugh. She also had the pleasure of hearing her speak at a book fair luncheon where she delivered a delightful conversational-type talk to an audience of mostly female fans. She told me two facts which hit home. Firstly, was that she is now in her third marriage. Secondly, her 6 word biography in “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs By Writers Famous and Obscure” is “Secret to Life, Marry an Italian!” She is currently married to one for over 20 years. There may be something to that. I did some research and hard figures are not clear. The divorce rate is Italy is about 4% compared to our 50%. In the U.S. the divorce rate of Italian Americans is among the lowest. So maybe Ms. Ephron has a point!