For those of you who know me, you are probably wondering what does this woman know about clothes? Isn’t she the one living in Costco’s best blue jeans and a 1991 “Fun in the Sun” t-shirt? Now is as good a time as any to come out of the closet, so to speak. I was sewing and designing clothes for my dolls and cats (much to my parents’ dismay) as soon as my mother handed me a needle, which was quite early. She was an extraordinary seamstress, hand sewing the smallest and most intricate stitches.
I could probably spend my life, and sometimes it feels like I have, watching classic movies from the 1930s. Who cares if the acting seems a bit over the top and the plot a bit hackneyed compared to today’s standards? I’m content to gape in those clothes! Will there ever be another Edith Head, Hollywood’s William Shakespeare fad? And that feather dress that Ginger Rogers danced in when “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” with Fred Astaire in “Top Hat.” Now there is something worth dying for, even though all those eddies and twists and feathers flying out of it have been uncharitably likened to a “chicken attacked by a coyote.”
But I digress. In a recent acting class, she was struggling with how to choose a suitable monologue. Regardless of how the teacher explained it, the concept was not taking hold. Of course I heard and understood everything said: look for the emotional journey, the bow; make sure it ends in a different place than where it starts; keep it under 90 seconds so if you run a little longer they won’t cut you, but try as you might, there was just no prize in that Cracker-Jack box. I searched for plays and scripts and was no closer to choosing a monologue than when I started. With so much incomparable writing, so many beautiful words, characters, and emotions, how could I choose? Then, as if someone had finally chanted the magic words, the trumpets sounded and the heavens opened. The information that had been flying around my brain like Ginger’s ostrich feathers finally settled, as did I, into a proper piece.
Looking for monologues is like shopping for clothes. Now in case you missed it, not only do I like clothes, I’m head over heels in love with clothes. I spent countless exciting afternoons wandering the aisles of Saks and Neiman Marcus, inhaling the hypnotic scents of fine fabrics, running my fingers through the delicate work, marveling at the bold new patterns, in awe of the undeniable honesty of timeless classic cuts. Everything about the clothing, the stitching, the fabric, the draping, the color, and the trimmings grapple me, probably to the silent horror of salespeople seeing those same faded Costco jeans. And when it comes to those smaller upscale boutiques, I prefer to give them a wide margin, as sellers are more likely to strike up a conversation and put me down or worse when I’m not shopping.
I’m much safer in thrift stores where I can dig unrestrictedly through miles of fabric, looking for that triumph that eluded others. I forgot, did I tell you about that exquisite Brooks Brothers tailored tweed jacket that I bought for five bucks years ago and wore with pride until it became threadbare? You get it right? Well, I know most of you do. I can’t pay full price for clothes when I can get the same for mere money from coffee and a little effort, especially when that effort is such a joyous pleasure.
Although by now you know that I love looking and searching for clothes, looking for that singular diamond on earth, I don’t want them all. Just as all clothing is not for me, so are monologues. The extraordinarily delicate silk dresses, impeccably stitched satin blouses, and silk-lined skirts and jackets, new and old, are wonderful. As much as I admire them, what the hell would I do with all of them? Unsurprisingly, not all of them fit me, some are the wrong cut or color for me, and others, well, there’s just no place to wear them. Clothes, like words, have to adapt not only to your body and personality, but to your situation.
I can run my fingers over the edge of an exotic belt and even covet it, but just as a belt is not a complete outfit, neither is a wonderful sentence or paragraph. It is a component. The timeless beauty of Violetta’s aria at the end of La Traviata would be markedly diminished if it weren’t for the tapestry of music that is the entire opera. The words of a great play or movie intertwine and then intensify into a heightened emotional tone that allows us to experience a moment in time like all eternity, just as color, cut, and drape transform mere fabric into art in motion, and lonely notes in a river of music.
Just as some clothes are more appropriate for women who come from a different culture or who have a different lifestyle than mine, so are some monologues. As confident as I am 5’8 “and of Brazilian descent, he couldn’t take Cio-Cio-San from Madame Butterfly, even if he had the voice or could wear a kimono convincingly, similarly, he couldn’t deliver in any way compelling those passages sentiments her Chinese-born mother Winnie Louie spoke to Pearl in “God’s Wife from the Kitchen.”
However, it still hurts when I think of that high-end pale green leather Armani masterpiece I saw on eBay. It was probably south of $ 200, but it wasn’t for me. The dots just weren’t connected. The waist was very high and the color was … well, I would have washed. Nonetheless, it would be stunning for someone with a lighter complexion.
Age is another important eligibility criterion. I cry when Juliet professes her love for Romeo, but the very words would be so ridiculous coming from someone my age as if she were wearing a miniskirt. Not only does language need to flow as easily as a dress, poorly chosen words can trip you up like the wrong cut or stilettos too small.
On the other hand, just as the clothes of some designers seem made for me, so are the words of some writers. The heavy emotions of Tennessee Williams’ mature heroines suit me, as do the deep colors and vintage haute couture fabrics of Mary McFadden.
And while every woman needs that classic basic black dress, how you accessorize it and make it your own depends on the occasion, your individual sense of style, and the impression you want to make. You can wear the same dress to church or a nightclub. Are you playing the nun or the vampire?
But sometimes even the most classic outfits can be overused, like that fabulous Brooks Brothers jacket I mentioned that eventually made it into the trash. Too much was spent, as much as “Streetcar” and “Wit”, and many pieces that are so wonderful that all women wanted to see themselves in them. Unless you have a unique and spectacular way to make them look new and fresh, avoid them like you would with the big hair and soldier shoulders of the eighties.
Of course, not everything has to be haute couture. Great pieces can and are found at Target. I am so looking forward to doing Jules’s brilliant monologue in “Pulp Fiction” as he struggles with himself over whether or not to put a cap on a forty-five-year-old. But sometimes even I am pragmatic, knowing that it would probably be received only slightly better than attending Easter Mass at St. Peter’s dressed in a tiny yellow bikini reminiscent of the rest. No, not all monologues are good for all auditions, just as not all outfits are suitable for all occasions, no matter how much you love them.
As easily as I can buy clothes on eBay, I can read movie scripts, screenplays, books, and plays on the Internet. All it takes is the willingness to search, explore, and imagine. Are the length and cut suitable? Is the gender and age of the item appropriate? Is it the correct color? Is it my culture or heritage? Is the set complete? Is the whole outfit nuanced enough for people to notice? Does the monologue have a different emotional journey? Will it catch my intended target? If so, where? Does the set complement my assets and minimize the things that people hopefully won’t notice? Does the piece highlight my ability to convey emotions that resonate deeply and naturally within me, or does it just make me look fat?
Like I said, finding a suitable monologue is a lot like buying a suit. The bottom line is that you can’t manipulate the end result. It has to fit right!
Now ballast, you have been lulled into thinking that I am a forgiving and tolerant woman, you should know that I am still looking for that … good lady, who gifted me in the eBay post for that beautiful $ 3,000 Emanuel. Ungaro jacket. Hundred dollars! Can you believe it? I would recognize that garment anywhere, anytime, so I would advise you never to wear it!