Sandra Tsing Loh, performer, writer and comedian, is a bright, gutsy woman whose newest on-stage memoir, The Madwoman in the Volvo, reveals much more about a person’s private life than an audience is accustomed to learning. But we are lucky to be able to experience such a courageous, funny and perceptive woman, one who’s not ashamed to share menopause’s trials, tribulations and treats. (OK, so what if the treats are largely food-related?)
Loh is renowned for her one-woman shows, Aliens in America and Sugar Plum Fairy, The Bitch is Back, her NPR radio segments, The Loh Life, The Loh Down on Science, and her essays in the Atlantic, where she is a contributing editor. She is also the author of several books, including A Year in Van Nuys, Mother on Fire and the much admired book on which Loh’s performance is based, The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones.
The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones (W. W. Norton & Company, 2014) is nearly 300 pages long. So, imagine trying to squeeze all of the book’s midlife menopausal crises — raising two daughters, having an affair, divorcing her husband of 20 years, and all of the hot flashes and trauma that go with them — in 90 intermission-less minutes. It’s a feat, and, although it’s sometimes too rushed, Loh pulls it off with a lot of humor and a bit of pathos, aided by two talents: Caroline Aaron and Shannon Holt, who play multiple roles, including Loh’s husband, children, friends, therapist and lover.
Directed by Berkeley Rep’s associate director Lisa Peterson, not all the segments of the autobiographical evening are amusing or amazing. And some important truths get lost in the shuffle; Loh’s finally getting some badly needed hormonal relief from estrogen cream is abandoned as an aside. Occasionally the timing is off, and some of the material falls flat. Yet I recommend The Madwoman in the Volvo if only to see the hilarious, yet sadly true, bit about couple’s therapy, and the heartbreaking episode of Loh as a child trying to cajole her mother out of depression.
I overheard a gentleman who was leaving the new Peet’s Theatre describe The Madwoman in the Volvo as a ‘chick play.’ Not only was I very glad that I was not going home with him, but I also felt sorry that he missed a fine opportunity to laugh while learning about menopause’s mysteries, and to gain some insight into one-half of the world’s population.
The Mad Woman in the Volvo plays through Jan. 15. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Berkeley Rep online.
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