Tsing Loh, sweet menopause: Berkeley Rep’s ‘Madwoman in the Volvo’ brings laughs and pathos to the midlife crisis

(L to R) Sandra Tsing Loh shares the stage with Shannon Holt and Caroline Aaron in “The Madwoman in the Volvo” at Berkeley Rep through Jan. 15th. (Photo by Debora Robinson)

Menopause, according to the definition from the Mayo Clinic website – “Menopause is defined as occurring 12 months after your last menstrual period and marks the end of menstrual cycles.”

Menopause, according to the definition from Sandra Tsing Loh – “Women are not making eggs anymore, so they can make margaritas and shag five different guys in a night and who cares.”
– Real Time with Bill Maher, July 11th, 2014

Humorist, author, playwright, NPR personality and actor Sandra Tsing Loh has a few things she says are bad for her health.

It’s not any specific type of food, drink or vice. And despite the fact that these things are bad, she has no choice but to be around it constantly.

Those two things are her cast mates Caroline Aaron and Shannon Holt.

“I will say quite frankly, those two women are the funniest and hardest-partying people on the road, women that endanger my house.”

Loh alludes to plenty of vodka and smoking amongst Aaron and Holt, partying in the middle of the night for hours on end, parties that threaten the call time for matinees. And if Loh needs to get the heck out of her house in a hurry to save herself? Forget it. Her legendary Volvo sits in the driveway, unable to move.

“I just can’t part with it.”

A woman bursting with energy and candor, Loh is bringing the adaptation of her popular 2014 Los Angeles Times best selling memoir “The Madwoman in the Volvo” to Berkeley Repertory Theatre for a run that lasts through Jan. 15th.

The show kicks off with Loh, zipping through a midlife crisis, starting her journey as a resident of Black Rock Desert for “Burning Man.” Throughout the play, there are trips to couple’s therapy, trysts with lovers new and old, and partying with the BFF’s. While Loh does Loh, Aaron and Holt play all of the characters throughout Loh’s life. The trio has been together since the world premiere of the adaptation in early January of this year at South Coast Rep, and by Loh’s account, they are having a blast.

Loh is refreshingly frank in her perceptions, and shares the totality of her life with theatre and literary audiences, moments both wonderful and rock bottom. Despite a life that seemed pretty great on the surface about eight years ago when she was 46, exemplified by driving aging parents, sedated dogs and her two young daughters around in a Volvo, a midlife crisis was lurking just around the corner.

She points to that moment which provided some painful clarity, locked in an affair with a married man while blowing up her own marriage.

“Of all the fu** ups I’ve done, that was probably the fu**y uppiest, and it wasn’t getting better.”

“It’s fantastic to own who you are at any age. When you turn 50, the odometer goes to zero, and the best days are ahead.” – Sandra Tsing Loh

The repercussions were vicious – taking up residence in a 10 x 10 Uhaul trailer, with boxes impeccably packed by her ex-husband, his version of throwing her stuff onto the driveway. And when she realized she didn’t have enough room to keep all her books, even books she authored, she started chucking them. Even Gabriel Garcia Marquez novels weren’t spared, that magical realism stuff not really her thing.

Despite the adversity, Loh found clarity in her discoveries.

“I used to think I was really wise at 34,” said Loh. “But the older I got the more stupid or incompetent I got. I realized I didn’t know anything. When I was 46, I felt I was where I was when I was 19.”

Loh speaks frankly about age, and has no problem owning where she is. Living in Los Angeles meant constantly fighting the perception of father time. But when she turned 50, it was a rebirth, a reset of things that went so wrong, and an opportunity to make it right.

“Because I lived in L.A., when I was 34, my agent said ‘you’re 31.’ When I turned 36, I was 36,” said Loh. “There are 130 million women in the United States, and half of those are over 45, so let’s just name it.

“After the show, a lot of people have come up to me to say they’re happy with where they’re at. It’s fantastic to own who you are at any age. When you turn 50, the odometer goes to zero, and the best days are ahead.”

Now 54, Loh has lots of life experience to share in a play filled with laughs, but also plenty of pathos and empathy. She has no problem putting herself out there, adapting moments from the book that put her in a harsh light. And as far as her target audience, well, it’s not what one may think.

“We thought that maybe it would be a middle-aged lady play, but found that wasn’t so. Men come out and say ‘That’s my wife, my mother,’” said Loh. “Every relationship is in the show, and everybody comes out thinking about someone else in the family.”

Loh has seen quite a shift in the audience psyche since the conclusion of the presidential election. And despite the unsure nature and deep fissures that have come from the results, Loh believes laughter is more important than ever.

“The Trump thing hit everyone so hard, that’s what we feel when we get into the room together. It’s time to be in a room with other people and be safe and celebrate and be joyous and shout against the dark.

“Menopausal women, they will outlast Trump, daughters and sons too. It’s going to be a couple of years, so we have to find a way to not go crazy and keep making ourselves laugh.”


Berkeley Repertory Theatre presents “The Madwoman in the Volvo”
Written by Sandra Tsing Loh
Directed by Lisa Peterson
Featuring Loh, Caroline Aaron and Shannon Holt
Through Jan. 15th
Peet’s Theatre at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
2025 Addison Street at Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94702
Tickets range from $60 – $75, which includes a beverage
For tickets, call (510) 647-2949 or visit berkeleyrep.org

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