Review

With Sandra Tsing Loh back to lead the way, change is very good

Charles McNulty
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Theater Critic

Writer-performer Sandra Tsing Loh wants the world to know that she didn't set out to become the spokesperson for menopause.

What woman would sign up to be the poster child for "old" and "dry"? she asks in her signature frisky manner, composed of equal parts exasperation and exhilaration.

The occasion for this clarification is her new solo show, "The B**** Is Back," which borrows the title of her 2011 essay in the Atlantic magazine that made her the new voice of what our grandmothers called "the change."

Rather than fighting fate — professional or biological — she has decided to embrace what her editor and her body have thrust upon her. Naturally, she's talking back to the doctors, who caution her about "weight creep"; the self-help dispensers, who advise her to give up alcohol, sugar and caffeine (and everything else that makes life bearable for her); and the army of kale evangelists, who believe they have the dietary answer to all her middle-aged woes.

Loh, a multidisciplinary humorist, slips out of categories in good and bad ways. Her prose has the hyperactive energy of a performance while her performances can have the quality of an amped-up literary reading.

Her new show at the Broad Stage's Edye, which has been set up with cabaret tables, is a cross between a stand-up routine, a consciousness-raising group and a communal SoCal love-in. A bar in the corner is open throughout the show, and Loh, while prowling around the room, enjoys seeing the women in her audience throw back their white wine with abandon.

An informality reigns. Loh dances onto the stage to the Commodores' "Brick House," stopping dead in her tracks when the song celebrates the "36-24-36" body of a woman Loh isn't going to even try to compete with.

At 53, Loh looks to be in terrific shape, but self-deprecation is her métier. She invites the audience to name the clothing strategy she's employing with her colorful top. "Ruching," someone finally offers, and Loh is surprised that the answer has come from a woman far too young and fit to know of this stylish form of draping legerdemain.

It can be a little difficult to keep track of Loh as she scurries around to banter with audience members. The show is strangely decentralized, as though Loh isn't entirely comfortable being the object of our attention. She seemed skittish at Thursday's opening-night performance and kept reaching out to friends and colleagues in the audience for moral support.

Fortunately, that insecurity is very much related to her subject. Confounded by mood swings, lethargy, food cravings and forgetfulness in the early phase of menopause, Loh found herself one day having to pull off the freeway during a crying jag in which she began mourning an old hamster.

Was she losing her mind? No, she was only experiencing what she calls the lifting of the "fertility cloud" that had descended during puberty and that was now freeing her from pretending that she really liked cutting sandwiches for everyone while they lazed about in the living room watching TV.

The demographics are on her side. Perimenopausal, menopausal and postmenopausal women are too numerous and powerful to be discounted with clichés and put-downs. What's more, a little snappishness, a bit of selfishness and some more body acceptance can be good things. So what if it means mom jeans and what she calls Hadassah arms?

The next president, she said, is likely to be a woman who won't have to worry about that time of the month that chauvinistic men used to say made women too emotionally unstable to hold the highest office in the land. And Loh, whose theatrical adaptation of her menopausal memoir "The Madwoman in the Volvo," has its world premiere at South Coast Repertory in January, appears to have lined up enough work to keep her solvent until Social Security kicks in and her golden years can provide a supplemental annuity of comic material.

This is just as it should be. For as this marvelous purveyor of riled-up common sense points out, the childbearing years are the interval. The rest is life.

---------------------

Sandra Tsing Loh: 'The B**** Is Back'

Where: The Edye at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica

When: Contact theater for schedule. Ends Aug. 2.

Tickets: $35-$65

Info: (310) 434-3200, http://www.thebroadstage.com

Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
72°