Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Leave it to Jane- Varscona, Edmonton

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 Jocelyn Ahlf and Andrea House, photo by Marc Chalifoux 

The Plain Janes bring pops of colour, vibrancy, and camp to Jeffery Lane and David Yazbek’s 2010 musical adaptation of the 1988 Pedro Almodóvar film, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios. 

It may be a dreary February evening in downtown Edmonton, but the stage of the Varscona Theatre – where the three-man band sit with their keyboards at the ready – is literally spattered with fluorescent paint of 1980s pop art. Big hair, padded shoulders, and impractical ladies’ footwear abound in this production, and the lively Latin beats make the theatre feel like a world apart from the grey Alberta winter outside.

If we weren’t sure how much camp the Plain Janes were going to bring to this story of love, betrayal, and gazpacho in 1988 Madrid, the random inclusion of a torero in the musical’s opening number banishes all doubt. Much like the original 2010 Broadway show, this production uses a variety of Spanish and Latin American cultural references (and accents) to add a flavor of farce to this sharp and witty comedy. Although the range of regional inflections occasionally verges on obscuring the clarity of the text as the performers hurtle through the dialogue, they also impart a particular musicality that reflects the controlled chaos of the marvelously ridiculous plot.

As befits a musical, the songs are the highlight of the production: despite the amplified quality (inexorable in a 1980s soundscape) the accomplished band on stage adds an intimacy and immediacy to the performance, and Yazbek’s challenging vocals are ably handled.

Vance Avery’s velvet-voiced Iván, in particular, is endlessly charming as he croons into his old-fashioned microphone with all the warmth, allure, and inconstancy of a telenovela heart-throb. At once enchanting and unapologetically faithless, Iván’s affections are not limited to the women on stage, but spill into the audience with an invitation for us to partake of his “ice cream sandwich” tomorrow.

Andrea House, as the territorial, self-obsessed, and wonderfully funny Lucia, tears down the fourth wall: fresh from the nut house, full of vengeance for her ex-husband (Iván), and clearly the most important person in any room, Lucia spends much of the play talking only to us.

Michelle Diaz’s delightfully energetic and refreshing Candela brings down the house with her technically tricky and skillfully executed “Model Behavior.” A professional model and our protagonist’s best friend – and lacking any filter between her mile-a-minute brain and her mile-a-minute mouth – Candela brings an endearing naïveté and heartwarming honesty into each scene, infusing the storytelling with vivacious spirit.

The Plain Jane Theatre Company has injected new life into this throwback musical, and audiences are sure to be warmed by this sharply funny and timely comedy.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown plays at Varscona Theatre until February 24th. Tickets at www.varsconatheatre.com

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