The Madwoman in the Volvo

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater

In addition to being a longtime radio personality, who was recently recognized by Variety magazine as one of America's 50 most influential comedians, Sandra Tsing Loh is also a bestselling author and playwright. And now, Southern California audiences have the opportunity to see Loh in the world premiere of The Madwoman in the Volvo, on the Julianne Argyros Stage of Costa Mesa's South Coast Repertory Theatre.

Directed by Lisa Peterson, and running through January 24, Madwoman moves at the manic speed of a multitasking menopausal mother chasing fulfillment while fleeing her chains of commitment. What's more, Madwoman, the play, is taken from Loh's memoir of the same moniker, and, like Loh's book, the play is a courageous confessional as well as a quick-change piece of performance art.

Played on an abstract set design (by Rachel Hauck), which serves as a stand-in for various locales – from the Nevada desert-scape to here-and-now places such as South Coast Plaza mall – Loh is aided by the presence of two other actresses onstage, Caroline Aaron as “Actor A” and Shannon Holt as “Actor B.” Each of these performers incarnate a range of characters from Charlie, Loh’s manly business manager of ten years (Aaron, surprisingly convincing)) to Loh’s psychotherapist (Holt, delightfully amusing).

But, in addition to top-notch production qualities and a grade A supporting cast, what makes Madwoman so engaging, and, at times, even gripping, is Loh’s unremitting honesty coupled with her skewed comedic views of her situation. After ten years, it was on a road trip with her two BFFs to the annual Burning Man ritual that Loh and Charlie began a love affair that betrays Loh’s husband of twenty years, who though unseen onstage, nevertheless seems broadsided by the news of Loh’s love tryst with the also married Charlie. Moreover, it is at this point that Loh questions her love, not only for the father of her children, but also her love for the children (two girls, six and eight, endearingly embodied by Holt and Aaron).

If, as Carol Burnett once said, comedy is tragedy plus time, Loh has so masterfully mixed this recipe of hurt and hilarity that the cutting comedy on display here stings with the spice of pathology while being sweetened by the comedic incongruence of her adventure as a desperate housewife.

The Madwoman in the Volvo continues at SCR through January 24. SCR is located at 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Show times vary Tuesdays through Sundays. For reservations, call (714) 708-5555. For online ticketing and further information, visit