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'Love, Loss, and What I Wore'

A production of "Love, Loss, and What I Wore" by Nora and Delia Ephron is coming to the Downtown Dance Collective on Friday and Saturday.

A local production of a play by the late writer Nora Ephron and her sister Delia places women's storytelling and acting in center stage.

Linda Grinde, a longtime member of Montana's theater community, saw "Love, Loss and What I Wore" in Oregon last year and decided to stage it here as an independent production.

The way it used "clothing as a way to trigger memory" to stir people to tell their own stories appealed to her. The Ephron sisters wrote the play using stories from Ilene Beckerman's book of the same name. Beckerman used clothing as a means to examine the stages of her life, a basis that the Ephron sisters expanded to a full gamut of characters. It calls for five actors playing 30 characters over the course of 90 minutes and a single act.

One of the aspects of the production in Oregon that leaped out to Grinde was the simplicity. Her cast will be dressed in all black and it won't require a set. They can use photographs to show the clothing that the characters are talking about.

It's rooted in direct storytelling, she said, letting the cast focus on their delivery. The monologues cover shared experiences like buying a first bra, picking out a wedding dress or a prom dress, or simply rooting through a closet or standing in front of a dressing room mirror. The more serious material includes siblings learning to accept a new stepmother after the death of their mother.

"All of these stories are upbeat, although the subject matter can be difficult," she said. While there is humor, the writing is "poignant and heartfelt."

The project is independent. The Downtown Dance Collective is co-producing and providing a performance space. Three clothing stores stepped in to sponsor: Betty's Divine, La Bella Vita and the Green Light.

Grinde, who has credits on and off stage in the Montana theater world, is directing.

"I love to act. But as an actor, I have to wait for a project. As a director, I can make things happen," Grinde said.

She earned her MFA in directing from Southern Methodist University. She directed for many seasons at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse and many productions for the Whitefish Theater Company. In Arlee, she directed Vic Charlo's "Moon Over Mission Dam" and in Missoula, Julie Cajune's "Belief." She acted for two seasons with the Philipsburg Opera House Theatre. She directed Leah Joki's "Prison Boxing," a local production they took to Los Angeles for a multi-week run.

For the Ephrons' play, she held an open casting call and wound up with a diverse group.

"They all have been involved with different strata of our theater community here," she said.

Linda Muth is a costumer at Missoula Community Theater. Grinde knows Joki from their collaboration. She worked with Heidi Coryell in Philipsburg. Robin Rose co-founded the Cigarette Girls burlesque troupe. Jasmine Sherman worked with the Brewery Follies in Virginia City.

"They all bring something unique," she said.

She hopes the play lays a base for future independent productions.

The simplicity of it means she could take it to other communities like the Flathead and stage it with women actors there. She kept track of everyone who came to the casting call, and hopes it can cultivate a base to support good writing for women and audiences.

"I'm looking for more good material for women, because we have so much female talent in this town that doesn't get used enough," she said.

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