The Pasadena Playhouse’s last production of the 2015-16 season will feature writer, performer and Pasadena resident Sandra Tsing Loh’s telling of her experience with a midlife crisis stemming from an eventful trip to the Burning Man festival.
“The Madwoman in the Volvo,” which was written by and stars Loh, will open June 2 at The Playhouse.
The production had its world premiere earlier this year at South Coast Repertory and is based on Loh’s memoir “The Madwoman In The Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones” as well as an essay on menopause that she wrote for Atlantic Monthly.
Loh said she was at the Sundance Theatre Institute a few years ago and began speaking about her “midlife crisis breakdown at Burning Man.”
“I fell in love and I had an affair,” she said. “The man I had an affair with moved back home with his family.”
In her book, she describes Burning Man as “an annual pagan, clothing-optional, drug-friendly weeklong gathering of some 50,000 people who build a temporary city in the scorching Nevada desert.”
She went to Burning Man in 2008 when she was 46 with a group of women she refers to as ‘Burning Moms’ and a male chauffeur. Loh was unfaithful to her husband of more than 20 years with a married man – the chauffeur – she calls “Mr. Y” in her memoir.
“It was quite the mid-life crisis,” she said. “It was not fun to live, but that’s what makes theater directors and dramaturges rub their hands together with glee and say ‘Now there’s a theater show.’”
In addition to Loh, the production cast also includes Caroline Aaron and Shannon Holt playing different roles. Lisa Peterson directs it.
“I have long been a fan of Sandra and her wonderfully truthful and humorous work,” Pasadena Playhouse Artistic Director Sheldon Epps said. “We were already in conversation about having her with us here at The Playhouse. When I went down to see the SCR production of Madwoman, I decided right away to bring this show to our theater for audiences in our community. This particular play is not only exceedingly funny, but also moving, emotional and in the end joyously celebratory. It will be a pleasure to have this fine work on our stage to end a season that has been so rich and rewarding in a number of ways.”
The inspiration for the title of her memoir and the theater production came from a visual image that Loh had in her head.
“Today over half of all American women are 45 and over,” she said. “Almost half are going through menopause. These women who are going through menopause, they are in the sandwich generation. They probably have children and are taking care of an elderly relative. I was driving a Volvo and I had this image of a woman driving a Volvo with a kid in the backseat and elderly parent in the frontseat. The Volvo is a traditional soccer mom car. Suburban moms are taking care of it on the outside and melting down on the inside.”
She described an emotional breakdown she had while on the 134 Freeway on her way to Trader Joe’s when she began thinking about how crowded the parking lot would be.
“I had a meltdown and had to pull over to the side of the freeway,” Loh said.
Loh said she’s from the “Triple M Generation,” which is menopausal, middle-aged and a mother.
She said “The Madwoman In The Volvo” is for both women and men.
“A lot of men would come with their wives,” Loh said. “Particularly middle-aged men would come and say, ‘Thank you, I finally understand what was happening with my mother 20 or 30 years ago.’ There are male characters in the story. They are quite heroic. There are some twists and turns in the telling of the play.”
In addition to writing numerous books and solo theater shows, Loh has a weekly radio segment on KPCC called “The Loh Life.” She’s also a commentator on NPR and PRI.
“The Madwoman In The Volvo” runs from June 2 to June 26; Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Ave. Tickets range from $25 to $125. To purchase tickets, visit www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org or call 626-356-7529.