The Madwoman in the Volvo/Another View

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

Throughout her career as an essayist, a familiar voice on NPR, and a performer/playwright, Sandra Tsing Loh has used autobiography as a means to comment on her own life as well as broader issues in the world. Her new play, The Madwoman in the Volvo, now enjoying a world premiere at South Coast Repertory Theatre, continues and expands upon this model.

Loh’s brutally frank observations about her mid-life crisis are leavened with her characteristic humor. But the emotional havoc she causes when an impromptu visit to Burning Man persuades her that she should divorce her husband, lends a bitter aftertaste to the laughter.

Life, after the divorce, presents its own set of problems and Loh explores them with her unique blend of bracing honesty and irreverence. She also skewers some easier targets such as: menopause, trendy foods and writer’s groups.

In a departure from her solo shows, Loh experiments with adding two other performers to the mix. Unfortunately, Loh’s script remains, at heart, a one-woman show. Only the central figure of Sandra has depth. The supporting roles, while amusing, remain more caricatures than full-fledged characters. This is easily excused in solo performance where the broadness of the characterization helps the performer delineate the roles, but it is disappointing in a more conventional theatrical setting. Particularly when those supporting roles are played by such richly talented actors as Caroline Aaron and Shannon Holt, both well-remembered for their brilliant work in last year’s productions of ICU and Picnic, respectively. The ladies acquit themselves well with a variety of characters and they certainly earn their laughs.

Loh’s playful meta-theatrical elements prove a more successful addition to the production. And, as always, she is a strong performer -- fearless, intelligent, and disarmingly funny in examining her life, mistakes and all.

Under Lisa Peterson’s tight direction, Madwoman moves briskly through an intermissionless 90 minutes.

South Coast Repertory     January 9 – 24, 2016