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How Karen Carpenter Keeps 'Love, Loss, and What I Wore' Fresh

After working with the play since 2008, the director says it's the revolving casts that keep the production evolving.

How Karen Carpenter Keeps 'Love, Loss, and What I Wore' Fresh How Karen Carpenter Keeps 'Love, Loss, and What I Wore' Fresh

Working with the same material day after day, year after year, could be as boring as wearing the same thing every day — it would get a little stale.

But using that same material with a variety of people keeps it fresh, says "Love, Loss, and What I Wore" director Karen Carpenter, whose production of the show continues at the in Sarasota this week. 

Switching out the cast is as mood-lifting as changing an outfit — a theme that runs through the foundation of the play about five women, their relationships and memories of the various outfits they wore during life's trials and tribulations.

The production of the play, a script written by Nora Ephron, who passed away on Tuesday, and her sister Delia Ephron, started in 2008. It was a weekly benefit at the Bridgehampton Community House with a cast that switched with nearly every showing. It later moved Off Broadway.

"At that juncture, I said I want to do the play with as many women as possible," Carpenter, who was the play's original director and helped to structure its original material, told Patch.

The characters include narrator, Gingy, who is based on Ilene Beckerman, the author of the original book, a vixen, a gang member, a cancer patient and an older woman haunted by memories. 

"For me, the key to the play is that it is about women sharing stories with each another," Carpenter said. "It is not about flash or staging, it’s literally about having no fourth wall and really communicating with each other, so women realize that they’re not alone in the things they experience in their lives."

The women tell 28 stories, and instead of having the actresses fixed to a particular role, Carpenter mixes them up "according to their particular talents and personalities and give them things that they excel at and give them one unexpected thing that people wouldn’t expect to see them in or hear them in," she said.

"That really was key to the play continuing to evolve for me beyond what it might have had we 'fixed' it."

Some of the cast members in the play's early days and through its commercial run Off Broadway and in Chicago have included Linda Lavin, Kathy Najimy, Tyne Daly, Marlo Thomas, Rosie O'Donnell, Jane Lynch, Fran Drescher and Loretta Swit. The play has enjoyed years of commercial success and critical raves.

Swit, famous for her role as "Hot Lips" Houlihan on the television show "M*A*S*H," is cast as Gingy in the Sarasota production of "Love, Loss, and What I Wore." 

"For me, she was the first strong woman I ever remember on television," Carpenter said of Swit. "She really had strength and was sexy and womanly and wonderful and smart."

Swit had also been in the cast in the Off Broadway production and was also friends with Michael Edwards, producing artistic director of the Asolo Repertory Theatre, said Carpenter, who also counts Edwards as a friend. 

"He really campaigned hard to be the first regional theater to present it," Carpenter said. "And I wanted it to come here for him. So we had to jump through a few hoops to make that happen." And Asolo Rep became one of the first theaters in the country granted rights to independently produce the play.

Over the past four years, Carpenter says she's worked with more than 150 women who she has cast in productions in New York and Chicago.

"What keeps it fresh for me is the incredible women I get to do it with, but also rediscovering the play has been anew each time," she said. "In fact women who have done it seek to come back to it because it’s such a special performance experience. So when they come back, I try to mix it up a little and give them things to do that they haven’t done before."

Donna McKecknie, who originated the Tony Award-winning role of Cassie in "A Chorus Line," had played the role of Gingy in previous performances, but is starring the the Asolo version as another cast member.

"[The actresses who play] Gingy are always like, I wish I was a part of the rest of the ensemble because they have a lot of group numbers together," Carpenter said. "So I asked Donna and she loved the idea."

Rounding out the cast are Broadway star Mary Testa, "Love, Loss, and What I Wore" veteran Roni Geva, and actress Rosalyn Coleman. Carpenter says that behind the scenes, all five women in the cast have always shared a dressing room.

"I’ve always said that what I want is that what happens in the dressing room be what comes out on stage — that kind of energy and connection and sharing," she said. "I think it’s a really, really great group of women, and I think the audience here is going to love it."

"Love, Loss, and What I Wore" runs through July 15 and tickets are $20-$67 through the .

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