Show a tribute to resilience of women
Certainly, it’s a memorable title — Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. But hardly empowering, especially when you consider that Pedro Almodóvar wrote the iconic 1988 Spanish film as a tribute to the strength and resilience of women. Women Kicking Butt all Over the Place may be more apt, though perhaps not as catchy.
Regardless. Kate Ryan of Plain Jane Theatre Company (now part of the Varscona Theatre Ensemble) has brought the musical version of the breakout Almodóvar film to the Varscona in the hopes it will be embraced as the extravagant farce is truly is, replete with sleeping potions, jilted lovers and terrorism. Also pregnancy.
“It’s bold and European, and because of the time it was happening in the 1980s, it’s about a cultural revolution and a sexual revolution,” said Ryan, who is directing the musical that opens tonight at the Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.
The film was made in the wake of a cultural shift that occurred after the Spanish dictator, Franco, died in 1975. It was a period of upheaval and great excitement in Spain that saw an explosion of art, culture, and sexual expression. Change could be seen everywhere, in the fashions of the day, and in the art galleries, bars and discotheques. The roles of men and women were
challenged, sometimes angrily.
“(The musical) approaches the situation with optimism, in giving women a voice and letting them speak out, even with rage,” said Ryan. “That’s why I love musical comedy, it’s a safe place for us to explore those difficult topics.
The movie and the musical follow the same plot line, which sees the heroine, Pepa, abandoned by her lover, Ivan. Pepa sets out to discover why the relationship has broken down, and meets eccentric sorts along the way, including Ivan’s son from another relationship (played deliciously by Antonio Banderas in the original movie), and his fiancée, Marissa. Oh, and by the way, a Shiite terrorist cell is holding Pepa’s best friend, Candela, hostage. Don’t even ask.
Though the story is dark in some ways, and largely portrays men as weak and not to be trusted, it does showcase the extraordinary resilience of its female characters. It’s a story that feels timely, even 30 years after it first debuted, given the way women have been speaking out against sexual harassment and assault, and objecting vociferously to the ongoing indignity of wage inequity.
“I think Almodóvar wanted to make sure the women’s voice was very much a part of the new age in Spain, ” said Ryan. “It’s such a great piece to do today, because he loves women for all the right reasons.”
The musical features a humorous book by Jeffrey Lane and Latin-style music by composer David Yazbek (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Band’s Visit). Costumes by local design Leona Brausen are suitably extravagant, all dangly earrings, glittery silver tube tops and shoulder pads, à la haute-couture Madrid. Edmonton choreographer Cindy Kerr sends legs a-whirling on achingly high heels. A five-piece band celebrates hot tempers with sizzle. The very floor of the stage explodes in colour, with a stylized woman’s face etched on it to represent Madrid.
“The wit, the colour ... it celebrates the emotions that we have, and it doesn’t condemn or trivialize them,” said Ryan.
Jocelyn Ahlf and Andrea House star in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at the Varscona Theatre.