Sandra Tsing Loh an amusing ‘Madwoman in the Volvo’

From left, Sandra Tsing Loh, Shannon Holt and Caroline Aaron are excellent in “The Madwoman in the Volvo” at Berkeley Rep. (Courtesy Debora Robinson)

“You’re in a hormonal storm,” writer-performer Sandra Tsing Loh’s friend informs her early on in Tsing-Loh’s new play, “The Madwoman in the Volvo.” “You’re menopausal!”

Later, after receiving more unwelcome news and advice from the same woman, Sandra “unfriends” her in person.

The 90-minute metatheatrical comic piece, performed by the Los Angeles-based author — and, in assorted roles of various ages and genders, excellent actors Caroline Aaron and Shannon Holt — is based on Tsing Loh’s autobiography of the same name.

With director Lisa Peterson, she adapted it for the stage; it is currently at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where, on opening night, Tsing Loh started by leading a rousing audience anti-Trump scream, which felt surprisingly cathartic.

The play itself is probably cathartic for Tsing-Loh, too.

An appealing stage presence in black boots, leather jacket, beret, jeans and T-shirt, she partly narrates and partly portrays herself in a series of confessional scenes that trace, not necessarily chronologically, her emotional changes and erratic behavior from perimenopause through menopause (she’s 54 now).

She’s hilariously rubber-faced, energetic and self-deprecating.

Like her mother before her, and like many, but certainly not all, other women, Tsing Loh sank into a deep depression during some of those troubling years.

She’d left her husband for another man (when her daughters were 6 and 8) and was struggling to deal with the ramifications of that deed.

Among the many scenes, there’s a fantasy couples counseling session with her partner (played by an amusingly deadpan Aaron) and a therapist (a wicked impersonation by Holt), contrasted to an actual counseling session.

There’s the temper tantrum her German mother (who went through “change of life” when Sandra was only 11) had when Sandra and her little sister gave her a Pyrex baking dish for her birthday.

And there are a few short segments examining the concept of marriage (including Aaron as Germaine Greer) and theories about menopause itself; one, which seems dubious, is that hormone levels revert back to the levels of puberty when women reach the egg-free stage of life.

As eager-to-amuse as Tsing Loh is, the dark places she so briefly shares are the most interesting: meltdowns; a black drifting feeling that separates her from her children; her intermittently unraveling relationships with friends, husband, partner; her scary mother.

This undeniably entertaining show would be more clearly focused and ultimately more satisfying if she’d gone deeper in those scenes and perhaps sacrificed some of the lighter material.

REVIEW
The Madwoman in the Volvo
Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Where: Peets Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley
When: Most Tuesdays-Sundays; closes Jan. 15
Tickets: $60 to $75
Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org

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