GENERIC REPRESENTATIVES Warren, Pinolini, Price, and Williams.
As a sign in a gynecologist's office put it, "If men were the ones who had menopause, there would be estrogen in the water supply." Admit it, guys. If suddenly we were victims, in no time there'd be a little blue pill on the market to straighten that out too. If men had menopause, going postal would be the rule rather than the exception, and we'd have to get our mail from carrier pigeons.
But that's another play for another day. Today the most prominent show the topic has inspired is Menopause The Musical, at Trinity Repertory Company through August 2. It's about the time-tested original form of the hormonal transition, but don't tell its sufferers that they're the weaker sex.
It was written by Florida marketing executive Jeanie Linders after she jokingly broke into song with friends, singing "I'm Having a Hot Flash" to the tune of "Heatwave." Enterprising woman that she was, she soon wrote two dozen more songs to familiar tunes and put on a one-person show. That was nine years ago, and by now Menopause The Musical has been seen by more than 11 million people in 13 countries, billed as "The Hilarious Celebration of Women and the Change."
Since the show was never just about Linders, the cast was soon expanded to four. Being generic representatives, the characters are known only by their descriptive identities. Soap Star (Cherie Price) is a successful TV actress, still beautiful but admittedly past her prime. It's about time, she fears, to stop putting off getting a facelift. Earth Mother (Barbara Pinolini) wears a granny skirt and performs an elaborate kundalini breathing exercise every time she wants to calm down. Iowa Housewife (Carolynne Warren) has an even sunnier disposition, chirpily representing Middle America. Professional Woman (Fredena J. Williams) is a no-nonsense, take-charge African-American force to be reckoned with in her black pant suit.
Strangers at first, they meet in Bloomingdale's when three of them do a tug-of-war over a black brassiere on sale. Explaining their snarkiness, one of them sings "Change, Change, Change" and the others step into a backup line, holding up underwear in depressing chronological order: hot red panties, plain cotton ones, and a Spandex tummy-control version.
Shared annoyances accumulate as they bond. Earth Mom observes, "It's a sign of the times when your hourglass shape is a glass of water." Ms. Professional says, "I can remember every song I ever heard in the '60s, but not what I had for dinner last night."
But most of the complaints come through the new lyrics, of course. When one of them says she is so tired of not being able to sleep, she is soon singing "Stayin' Awake," as the others snap into a Travolta-esque finger-jabbing disco production number. Exhausted? "Puff, My God I'm Draggin'" becomes the anthem.
One of my favorites addresses the plight of onlooking husbands: to the old Kingston Trio favorite, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," we hear the refrain, "In the guest room or on the sofa, my husband sleeps tonight," accompanied by vocal jungle sounds and fervent ritual dance. Another addresses the problem of faltering memory, to the tune of the Platters' "The Great Pretender": "I know your face, but your name's erased, so I hug you so you can't tell." On the money.
Objections? Well, there is the matter of their raising their bottles of Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and St. John's Wort aloft in triumph as they sing, a la the Beach Boys, "I wish we could all be sane and normal girls." But I suppose that could be seen as eye-rolling acknowledgment more than giving in to the dark side.
Menopause Mama, the one-woman show created by Trinity's Rose Weaver 10 years ago, took on the subject with more depth. But Menopause The Musical doesn't trivialize the matter, despite trying to be as funny as possible. (At menopausethemusical.com — and to audiences in the lobby afterwards, they solicit donations for such campaigns as fighting ovarian cancer.) Like wise women, the show knows enough to not try to get around the problem — it takes us right through it.