Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
The great Spanish author and film director Pedro Almodóvar created a unique and productive artistic niche by revealing his insights into women on the edge – the edge of society, the edge of sexuality, the edge of emotion, the edge of sanity. After several successful films in the Spanish market, his international reputation soared in 1987 with the black comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which in turn was made into a stage musical of the same name in 2010. The musical honors the themes and the dark humor of the film and adds the dimension of a delightful score.
Perhaps the crux of the storyline and the associated social commentary is something spoken in the dialogue – that when it comes to sexual relationships, one sex romanticizes them while the other commoditizes them. Thus, much of women’s anguish derives from their quest for lasting love versus the wandering nature of the men that they love.
The major consternation in the plot is caused by the disingenuous lothario, Iván. At the outset, he has left a voice message for his lover Pepa, announcing that he is leaving her, despite loving her. We later meet Lucia, Iván’s estranged wife, who wants to divorce him after separation of 19 years. Finally, we meet his surprise replacement lover, which isn’t the wisest match under the circumstances. But while Iván takes these, and presumably more, romantic relationships as simply the game of life, the women are often left with heartbreak and frayed psyches which are sharply on display.
A number of other characters are introduced, some with their own funny romantic entanglements. One of the songs even jokes about the complicated relationships in the plot, but in the end, the characters do intertwine. Through it all are episodes of jumping ship (figuratively) and jumping from balconies (literally). And then there is that blender of valium-laced gazpacho!
Though the pace does pick up, the opening scenes lack the sustained energy needed to fully engage the audience. The tipping point which captures full attention is the song “Model Behavior.” Delivered by the talented and charismatic Marah Sotelo, who plays Pepa’s friend Candela, it is a rapid patter, screamingly funny song in which she’s leaving a voice message saying that she’s just found out that her live-in boyfriend is a terrorist!
While the wicked story can stand on its own, even though it mostly twists and turns to inconclusion, the soundtrack adds an array of compelling highlights. Songs of various tempos have catchy lyrics and often use typical Latin dance rhythms and hand clapping, such as in “Tangled.” It is one of the many ensembles and duets with beautiful harmonies, all of which are arranged and performed with great skill.
In a structural oddity, several of the key songs, including the orienting piece “Madrid,” are delivered by the unnamed taxi driver, who is tangential to the plotline. However, the role is sung very nicely by Keaton Wilkerson. The two female leads, Patricia Pitpitan as Pepa and Sheila Viramontes as Lucia also handle their vocals well. Particularly effective is the latter’s rendition of “Invisible,” the melancholy reminiscence of a woman who no longer has the appeal that she once did.
Town Hall’s production, directed by Dawn Monique Williams, ultimately clicks and makes for an amusing evening with a lot of real pluses. Production values are good, including fine musical direction by Lindsey Schmeltzer; versatile and kitschy stage design by Martin Flynn; and dramatic lighting by Delayne Medoff. As can be expected in community theater, some performances stand out, but overall, they are uneven.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown with book by Jeffrey Lane, music and lyrics by David Yazbek, and based on the film by Pedro Almodóvar is produced by Town Hall Theatre Company and plays on their stage at 3535 School St., Lafayette, CA through June 22, 2019.