Collinson’s 2nd Story Directorial Debut A ‘Celebration’
Wise, witty and wonderful this show is not merely a ‘woman’s show’ but a great and truthful play that all who have had women in our lives, which is to say all of us, can appreciate and enjoy.by F. William Oakes, East Bay RI
An old adage attributed to Ben Franklin goes: “For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost. Fort the want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For the want of a horse, the rider was lost. For the want of a rider, the battle was lost…all for the want of a horse-shoe nail.” At Warren’s 2nd Story Theatre it is Lynne Collinson who provides the nails.
If you’ve ever attended 2nd Story Theatre you know Lynne and her gracious presence well. Perhaps she has given you your program and helped you to your seat. Perhaps you’ve seen her onstage in plays ranging from “Death of a Salesman” to last year’s “Neighborhood Watch.” Perhaps you’ve seen her listed as 2nd Story’s Executive Director in the program, a behind-the-scenes role in which she flourishes and which has required her to do practically everything at the theatre from answering phones to writing and proposing the grants that keep 2nd Story not only alive but thriving. But make no mistake, her years of hard work and manifold tasks are the essential nails that helped to affix Artistic Director Ed Shea’s vision in Warren.
As she obviously doesn’t have enough to keep her busy, Ms. Collinson is making her 2nd Story directorial debut, guiding the helm of its latest offering “Love, Loss and What I wore” by Nora and Delia Ephron.
The show is a sweet one and was a big off-Broadway hit a few years back. The play is based on the 1995 memoir by Ilene Beckerman; screenwriter Ephron (“Sleepless in Seattle”, “When Harry Met Sally”) adapted the source material into a series of monologues which are alternately funny, moving and magical. The author, self-described as “just the lady behind you at the A&P” was herself astonished when her book was published. But it is the essentially ordinary honesty about this material that is exactly what makes this play sing and touch the heartstrings.
The story goes that Beckerman woke up one night and, unable to sleep, started drawing. She sketched a dress and realized that it was, down to the exact details, a dress she remembered her mother wearing when she was a child. This simple act unleashed a floodgate of memories and the form the play takes is a series of stories and monologues exploring the interactions between women’s wardrobes, their relationships and personal histories.
But is only ostensibly about the clothes. The common thread here is memory and how memory weaves itself into the fabric of our lives. “The stories are universal”, Ms. Collinson explained at the rehearsal I attended, “and these memories are packed. The stories are both touching and witty, very entertaining but also able to pierce our hearts-and that duality attracts me.”
Attractive too is the very look of the show, very warm, cozy and intimate. A simple arc of chairs are spread before a wall of picture frames which display dress sketches based on those done by Beckerman; the effect is akin to being invited into a beloved relative’s parlor. That’s all you need to create the mood for this show which was written to be read aloud and is, as one character here describes how her boots make her feel, both poetic and unselfconscious. What is quietly striking here is the absolutely unaffected honesty of these stories that are alternately as warm as a favorite old sweater, elegant as a pair of pumps or as fun and high-kicking as those aforementioned boots.
That Ephron also penned “You’ve Got Mail” reminds me to say that it’s never enough to write well for the stage, these lines must be well delivered too. The ensemble Ms. Collinson chose to tell these sweet stories are all simply stunning and familiar to 2nd Story theater goers. Joanne Fayan shines as ‘Gingy’, our stand-in for Ilene Beckerman. She is well matched by Laura Sorensen, Valerie Westgate, Tanya Anderson, Pam Faulkner and Joan Batting, all of whom exude the necessary onstage honesty needed here, are great 2nd Story tellers and are capable, when required, of raising a smile or breaking a heart.
The play manifests many moments of personal recognition for the audience; you’ll see yourself, or your loved ones, in these stories. Lynne Collinson’s great eye for detail was very much in evidence at rehearsal as she sharpened and stylized these stories, eliminating a pause here and there to keep the dialogue a real, shared moment and to emphasize the point, tweaking the lights to achieve a necessary cozy glow. The idea here, she explained, is to create “a confection” out of all these many personal connections. As time allowed we talked about life, love and her personal history at 2nd Story Theatre.
Lynne Collinson has had “a passion for acting since I was a teenager” and her artistic life in Rhode Island has been a full one, “coming full circle from falling in love with the theatre seeing Bob Colonna act onstage as I attended Trinity Rep as a Project Discovery student to acting opposite him as Willy Loman’s wife Linda when 2nd Story did “Death of a Salesman” in 2003.” Along the way she has acted and directed in many RI theatrical venues, including the Barker Players of Providence.
Her 2nd Story history is storied too, she first met Ed Shea in the 80’s when 2nd Story was in the basement of School One in Providence. She auditioned and was cast as his wife in the play “Otherwise Engaged.”
Their paths crossed again in the late 90’s when she was working for the Dean of Brown Medical School and Ed was attending the University. He was thinking of starting an acting studio so “in exchange for free acting lessons I marketed the studio and did the scheduling.”
This formed the foundation for 2nd Story as we know it today. “The success of the studio prompted Ed to search for space in Warren and the rest is history. We started from scratch, working long hours with a great group of volunteers, many of whom are still connected to this theater.”
In the early days Lynne “answered phones, sold tickets, balanced the books, paid the bills and unclogged the toilets. All of us”, she continues, “did whatever needed to be done to establish 2nd Story as a permanent cultural resource in the East Bay. That summer I also wrote my first proposal for grant funding. I’m proud to have played my part in creating a warm and welcoming environment where people can enjoy affordable, high quality, live theatre.”
About this particular piece of live theatre Lynne says: “the play ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’ is simply great storytelling. A collection of frequently funny, sometimes powerful, always witty vignettes about women and our clothes and how they make us feel, what they help us remember. This is an evening that will make you laugh and might even bring a wistful tear to your eye.”
Ultimately though, “this show is a celebration. All of these women are survivors and celebrate that survival.” And to this I must agree. Wise, witty and wonderful this show is not merely a ‘woman’s show’ but a great and truthful play that all who have had women in our lives, which is to say all of us, can appreciate and enjoy. We love our cherished memories; thanks to Lynne Collinson and the good folks at 2nd Story, these memories, stories and celebrations will continue to survive and thrive.