Show a trib­ute to resilience of women

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - LIANE FAULDER lfaul­der@post­media.com twit­ter.com/eat­my­words­blog

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.

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