Sandra Tsing Loh's Menopause-alooza
Warning: No attempt at journalistic objectivity is being made in the following article. The reason is because the woman featured has been one of my closest, call-at-4-a.m. girlfriends since we were in our 20s, married to musicians (whom we later divorced). I did OK, but she got pretty famous, a fact for which I still have not forgiven her. And she’s thinner too, so there’s that.
You know her as Sandra Tsing Loh, author, performer, and regular commentator on radio shows “Morning Edition,” “This American Life” and “Marketplace”; her weekly segment “The Loh Life” is heard on KPCC. Variety once named her one of the 50 most influential comedians, and her solo shows, including “Aliens in America,” “Bad Sex with Bud Kemp” and “Sugar Plum Fairy,” have sold out from the Kennedy Center and off-Broadway venues to the West Coast’s Seattle Repertory and Geffen Playhouse.
Now what’s been called her “imaginatively twisted and fearless” play, “The Madwoman in the Volvo,” inspired by her bestselling book of the same title, comes to South Coast Repertory this month. Usually a solo performer, Sandra will share the stage with two other actors, Caroline Aaron and Shannon Holt, in this work directed by Lisa Peterson. Did I mention Sandra is also an adjunct professor of visual art and science communication at UC Irvine? Which gives us the opportunity to regularly have a glass of wine or three at my place. Here’s what we talk about:
SD: I never would have imagined you would be the new face of menopause.
SL: Right? But the fact is Gen X is in menopause. Courtney Love turned 51! The face of the “old” menopause we used to think of as our grandmothers and great aunts, with the curly Barbara Bush hair helmet, sweating in a housecoat and slippers, fanning themselves with bingo cards. But today, 1 in 2 American women are menopausal. So the majority of American women are …
SL: We’re the triple M’s – menopausal, middle-aged moms. Basically, we should just call ourselves Menopause Nation. Y
ou and I are mothers – we have associated what mothers do as
the normal stage, where we are making the sandwiches and picking up after people who are perfectly capable of picking
up after themselves …
SD: Amen sister!
SL: But that is such a small number of years in our life. At the turn of the 20th century the median life expectancy was 48. Forty-eight! Now we live to 80, 90, 100 – we are fertile less than a third of our lives. So menopause is not “the change”; menopause is getting back to normal.
SD: You’ve made that funny. How?
SL: This new show you haven’t seen. It’s less about menopause and more about that time – remember when we came up to your place in Sacramento for that big political rally?
SD: When you decided to organize 500 of your closest friends for a march on the state Capitol in support of public schools. And you all camped out on our farm, since we lived up there at the time. How could I forget?
SL: Right. The show is about what happens after that, when a few of us decided to go to Burning Man following the rally. The naïve suburban moms putting on their Clinique SPF 15 moisturizer and going to Burning Man. I think part of the humor of the story is, What were we doing? In the moment it made sense! It was this euphoric time, chasing the Big Universal. In your mid 40s you’re reckoning with the deal you have made with your life. This is about that moment when the floor drops, and you are looking out at the playa, and you’re sunburned, and in front of you is your friend of 10 years and it hits you, “This is you who I love.” The midlife breakdown.
SD: Well, that part of your life was kind of funny, tragic-comedy like.
SL: I was calling you! And taking Ambien. It was really horrible. I thought I would be Maya Angelou at 45, full of wisdom. Then at 47, I am throwing my books into the dumpster because I don’t live anywhere. I seem to get stupider and stupider the older I get.
SD: What’s going to be surprising about in this show?
SL: When I was developing this at Sundance Theater Lab, they said: What is the heart of the story? Then stories about my brother and what he went through when his wife died, and memories about my mother and the mother/daughter theme, all come out. In our house my sister was the responsible adult child and I was the tap-dancing clown sibling, and in this way we tried to manage our mother. I started to look at how these patterns come with us into adulthood. Those were to me real surprises.
You know I am not a woo-woo person at all, but they say that you can get to the age of 50 and carry all this unresolved emotional baggage. After 50 if you don’t deal with it, your body and your life will start to break down. So I’m doing whatever I need to do! Going to a clairvoyant, throwing the “I Ching,” asking myself, how can I make myself happier? Some of the answers may go back to childhood and the grief I didn’t quite resolve.
SD: So proud of you. But now for the really important question: How big is my part in your new show?
SL: There is probably less about you than there should be. The more harsh sisters are better represented, the ones who were really mean. You were actually reasonable and loving when I was going through all this – plus you’re still married to your hot husband. When you start to crack up and are living in my attic, then I’ll revise.
“The Madwoman in the Volvo,” South Coast Repertory, January 3-24