Cause for pause

American dreams could be deeper
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  September 6, 2006

PULLING AWAY: Women's bodies age faster than their spirits.
The Ogunquit Playhouse’s final show of the season is a musical for the ages — for the ages, that is, of about 45 to 60. It is also a musical of an age — an age bred on a rising pop culture that grew up right along with its youth. Menopause, the Musical is an energetic four-woman revue by Jeanie Linders and directed by Patty Bender, and it has the rather specific audience of baby-boomer women (and their erstwhile male companions) who have passed or who are now passing out of the youth that so changed the American cultural landscape.

This is, accordingly, menopause as only America could perform it. It is sparkly, it is feel-good, and it is set in Bloomingdale’s. It is also, literally, pop. The soundtrack is a slew of boomer-era favorites, mostly from the ’60s and ’70s, that have been, as the program notes word it, “parodied with great appreciation” to reflect the plaints and fears of the modern menopausal woman. In the Art Deco opulence of the nation’s quintessential setting for self-recreation, four women sing of the Change of Life (to the tune of “Chain of Fools”); of the nocturnal privations of Stayin’ Awake (“Stayin’ Alive”); and the vicissitudes of weight gain, in My Thighs (“My Guy”). It is just what you’d expect of menopause on Broadway: bright, broad, and unabashedly blunt.

By far the best part of the show are its mighty singers. These fine and feisty ladies give life to what are apparently the four leading archetypes of the American woman. Yvette McGregor plays the aging Soap Star, whose maturing looks and (infinitesimal) weight gain cause her to fear for her job. Then there’s Stephanie Pascaris as the Earth Mother, a former bra-burning flower child who’s now just as excited as the next woman by a Bloomingdale’s sale on firming intimate apparel. Liz Hyde plays that icon of good-humored naïveté, the Iowa Housewife, who gapes ecstatically at the big city ways. And Sherri Brown-Webster, as the corporate Power Woman, entertainingly vamps type-A non-nonsense, and does a fabulous, dead-panned send-up of Tina Turner, to boot (her “What’s Love Got to Do With It” is a lesson for the Iowa Housewife on the autonomy afforded by vibrators). These women performers have definitely got it; you’d like to watch them having their theatrical ways with the high camp of Batboy: The Musical, or the intimidating wit of something from the Brecht/Weil canon.

Menopause doesn’t call for that level of art. Nor does it choose to explore much beyond the obvious and the superficial hallmarks of the Change — hot flashes, weight gain, night sweats, more hot flashes, and bitchiness (to the tune of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”: “In the guest room, or on the sofa, my husband sleeps tonight”). To the tune of Brian Wilson’s “Help me Rhonda,” the women thank their doctors for Paxil and Prozac, and throughout the show they move from floor to floor in Bloomingdale’s, finding both fear and relief in trying things on. This isn’t a show that looks too closely at the psychological nuances of menopause, such as evolved interpersonal roles or the tradeoffs between fertility and wisdom. It is more about immediate feelings, and provides sweet and easy balms for the rougher of these. The aim of Menopause is less introspection than simple good feeling, by way of empowerment and a sense of sisterhood.

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