If you loved Love, Loss, and What I Wore, which opened off-Broadway in 2009 and is the Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron adaptation of Ilene Beckerman's book of the same title, you're likely to revel in Cheryl Stern's Shoes and Baggage, now at The Cell.
Even if you missed the Ephrons' long-running opus about women and their wardrobes but you're on to the fashion commitment many women share -- some even to fashion-victim status -- you very well might get a boot (a kinky boot?) out of Stern's show.
Yes, it's a show, but it's also a confession, and like many confessions, it's a compulsive confession. Stern, who refers to herself as "a working actress" (as opposed to a Broadway star), wants to come clean about a devotion to clothes that certainly qualifies her as a clothes horse but stretches spandexically beyond that to a clothes-aholic of the sort who might decide she'd better hie herself to Debtors Anonymous.
She's written the tell-all for herself, but it's hardly the first time she's shown up on stage -- as her long bio, which has to make her mother proud, attests. She's been on and off Broadway enough times not only to act with box office names but also to shop with them. When she was in the 2001 revival of The Women, Claire Booth Luce's jungle-red-clawed dramedy, she bonded with Jennifer Tilly, another inveterate credit-card wielder.
But listening to her tell it, as she prances up and down the all-white set that a clever (and uncredited) designer has imagined as a runway, she presents herself -- in monolog with songs (music by Tom Kochan) -- as not only someone who delights in whatever costumers create for her when she's behind the footlights but also, and perhaps even more importantly, what get-up she can sport to the opening night party.
Occasionally flashing back to childhood, she reports on apparel she's coveted and purchased over the years. She talks about spending money she may or may not have had on breathlessly desired dresses, coats, shoes and bags. Among other lists of acquisitions she's treated herself to at least three ( four?) Louis Vuitton bags.
And although she never refers to the above-mentioned Debtors Anonymous, what she comes around to saying about solo sprees or those she's shared with two longtime shopaholics whom she calls Rena and Karen increasingly sounds like a 12-step program qualification.
While remaining amusing throughout her 80-minute or so wardrobe jeremiad, she reaches a point where she's facing the opening of the Nine revival and eyes a pair of $900-plus stilettos she knows she can't afford. Should she or shouldn't she? After all, she's not Carrie Bradshaw with that seemingly bottomless Sex and the City bank account. How long can she continue to buy-buy-buy heedlessly?
The answer she unburdens won't be supplied here, but when she discloses the eventual fashion choices she made for the event, lighting/video designer Nathan W. Scheuer flashes a snapshot of her at the celebration on the two screens above the stage. She looks as piquant and happy as she can be.
Early on in the vigorous routine directed silkily by Joe Barros, Stern mentions returning home after a binge and hiding voluminous shopping bags so that her husband won't be on to her. She refers to the man more than once, making him sound like the most tolerant spouse a clothes-mad woman would be lucky to find. How does she do it? More to the point, how does this living male saint do it? And why? Any significant others attending the show will thank the heavens for not being in this groom's loafers.
When Stern is gabbing about coats, she brings up a butterscotch-colored mink. Tilly wanted it but settled for an $8,000 black mink she paid for but never claimed. That's not the last time Stern refers to it. So keep an eye peeled.