RUN DATES: 6/6/16

VENUE: North Coast Repertory Theatre

Big Names wrote it and Big Names are appearing in it. Delia Ephron and Nora Ephron wrote “Love, Loss and What I Wore.” Mariette Hartley and Marion Ross will appear in the comic play for one night only, for a fundraiser at North Coast Repertory Theatre.

How did it all come about?

The Emmy Award-winning Hartley, who lives in Los Angeles, has known NCRT artistic director David Ellenstein for a long time. She worked with his late father, a prominent actor/director, many years ago.

“He’s like family,” Hartley says of the younger Ellenstein, also an accomplished actor/director. And just to maintain the family theme, Hartley’s daughter, Justine Hartley, a gifted actor in her own right, will also be appearing in the production. They recently performed together in a production of “The Lion in Winter,” and both loved the experience. (“She’s comedic heaven,” says the elder Hartley. Takes one to know one).

Mariette (her given name was Mary Loretta Hartley, but her father gave her that “Little Mary” nickname as a young child; it stuck, and she adores it) grew up in Connecticut, where she started acting at age 10. In a youth theater production, she played the Fairy King, Oberon, in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and she says, “it changed my life totally. I remember seeing all those people smiling and clapping, and I was hooked.”

She was coached and mentored by the legendary, eccentric English-born actor/producer/director Eva Le Gallienne (1899-1991). The first assignment she gave Hartley, age 14, was to play Juliet. And that was the beginning of a 44-year career that’s included extensive stage, screen and TV work.

Hartley’s face and robust voice became living room regulars during the 1970s and ‘80s, when she appeared with James Garner in a popular series of TV commercials for Polaroid cameras. You can still see them on youtube; the humor and easy rapport of the two is striking and compelling. And funny. They were so compatible onscreen, people thought they were married.

“I adored Jimmy,” she says of the beloved actor, who died in 2014. “We had wonderful chemistry. Over the course of seven years, we did 250 commercials together. All my ad-libbing began then. We had a good script, but we were allowed to run with it. We were ad-libbing a good deal of the time. Johnny Carson and I had really good interactions, too, when I appeared on his show many times.”

Now, San Diegans get to see Hartley’s comic chops in “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” based on the tiny, hugely successful illustrated memoir by Ilene Beckerman.

The play was the final collaboration of the sisters Ephron (they’d worked together on “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” among other projects; Nora died in 2012, at age 71). Even though the book was very specific — about Beckerman’s life and clothes — the Ephrons realized the universality of memories about what-you-wore-when and what it meant to you. They jokingly referred to the piece as their “Vagina Monologues… without the vaginas.”

The play is based on this simple idea: If you ask women about their clothes, they tell you about their lives. The Ephrons sent out 100 emails to their friends, asking them to tell about their favorite item of clothing. They got responses from Rosie O’Donnell, among many others, and included their own stories, too. There are funny monologues about weight and dressing room anxiety, wacky things your mother told you, wardrobe malfunctions, crazy-high heels, and even overstuffed purses (a piece borrowed from Nora’s book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck”).

“I’m not much of a clothes person,” Hartley confesses. “I only keep clothes because I forgot to throw them away. But I love the piece about the purse. That’s one of my favorites, and I can totally relate. I always carry a big purse, and I always lose things in it.”

She is finding much to like in the play, which she considers to be “very good and very well written.”

The reading/performance will be directed by North Coast Rep artistic director David Ellenstein, but there will probably be only one rehearsal. When the play opened Off Broadway in 2009, it was always produced as a reading, with high-profile actors rotating in weekly. The opening cast included Rosie O’Donnell, Tyne Daly and Samantha Bee. Over the course of its two-year run, 150 women participated. The show won the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience and the Audience Award for favorite New Off-Broadway play.

In addition to Hartley, her daughter Justine and Marion Ross (best known for her 11-year portrayal of Mrs. Cunningham on “Happy Days”), the cast for the North Coast Rep production features local favorites Amanda Sitton (winner of two San Diego Theatre Critics awards, for her performances in “Doubt” at the San Diego Rep and “Golden Boy” at New Village Arts) and Summer Spiro (terrific

in the San Diego Rep’s world premiere, “Steal Heaven,” and “Fallen Angels” at North Coast Rep).

Remembrances of clothes and events and relationships past span a wide age range. There will surely be something for everyone (even men!) to relate to.

The North Coast Repertory Theatre fundraiser reading/performance of “Love, Loss and What I Wore” takes place on Monday, June 6, at 7:30 p.m., at 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach

Tickets ($100) include a 6 p.m. reception, are tax deductible and are available at 858-481-1055 or



©2016 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews