When Rose Weaver first started doing some short pieces she’d written about menopause for audiences at hospitals and wellness conferences, she wasn’t surprised that women identified with the topic and recognized their experiences in her monologues. What surprised her was "the passion, the anger — they were mad!"
Since Menopause Mama was presented as a work-in-progress at Perishable Theatre last fall, Weaver and director Bob Jaffe have amended, augmented, and polished it, shaping this blend of monologue and song into a completed play. It opens this week at Perishable Theatre.
In a recent conversation with Weaver and Jaffe, they spoke about the genesis and development of the play. Local audiences know Weaver through her acting and singing — at Trinity Rep, she was particularly memorable as Billie Holiday, in 1994’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. But many theater-goers might not realize that she is also a playwright, with a 1998 MFA in creative writing from Brown. While at Brown, she studied with playwrights Paula Vogel and Aishah Rahman, and she remembers their emphasis on finding an organizing principle for a play.
As the strong character Menopause Mama began to voice her concerns in Weaver’s early drafts, it became clear that Mama’s "petitions" were the thread that pulls everything along with it. Her petitions set forth — as Weaver hopes the entire play does — "the things that we women feel need to change.
"Petition Number One," Weaver explained, "is that we Menopause Mamas want all supermarkets to have an aisle with a big sign that says ‘Menopause.’ Number Two: Teach young girls to understand, cherish, and honor all those things that make her female and to know the difference between fact and fable.
"Number Three: We want men to just say it — that they are going through the change . . . because everyone knows it anyway!
"Petition Number Four," she continued, "is to put more of us mature women on the covers and inside of the leading fashion magazines. And Petition Number Five is that we want everybody to stop callin’ us every name but our own when we don’t act like somebody want us to. Teach girls while they’re young that they are not cows, billies, heifers, chicks, a piece of tail, skank, bitch, or ho. And teach young boys that older women are not your mama!"
If Menopause Mama and her petitions sound outspoken, that’s only the beginning. Through a combination of song, narration, interaction with the audience, and storytelling in the voices of other women (and at least one man), Weaver lays out experiences common to women (and men) about growing older and living through a mid-life "change."
"I want people to realize that menopause is as natural as birth and death," stressed Weaver. "And that growing older can be and should be the beautiful process that it was meant to be. Yes, we might have to give up short skirts, but there are many ways to feel attractive. We’re still looking for ways to turn someone on and and to be turned on ourselves.
"But we freak out about aging," she added. "It’s such a natural process; there’s nothing we can do about it. If we can tell ourselves to be happy, a lot of times, I think we are. It’s mind over matter. The thing is to just get in there and try to enjoy growing older, so that you get the best out of life and live it to the fullest. Menopause is a part of it."
In this expanded version (80 minutes) of Menopause Mama, Weaver and Jaffe have added an original song about erectile dysfunction, called "The Blue Pill," written (upon request) by a friend of Weaver’s. They have created new lyrics to "Fever" for a new scene on cyber-dating; included a scene on lesbian motherhood; and brought in Brown’s Julie Strandberg as a choreographic consultant for Weaver’s songs.
Weaver hung onto Jaffe as director/dramaturg partly because of his experience in working with the gestation of similar pieces, including his own and then you go on, An Anthology of the works of Samuel Beckett, and partly because she felt that she needed someone to take a hard look at the structure and flow of the play.
"I wanted a director to deal with sensitivity to me and to the audience," Weaver reflected. "It was hard to take the risk and get it out there."
But after years of jotting notes about symptoms and her reactions to them, after months of prodding by friends and after seeing a production of The Vagina Monologues and seeing Anna Deveare Smith perform, Weaver felt that what she had to say was important and that she was the one to say it.
"I was told by Aishah, ‘Just keep chopping wood and eventually you can make a fire,’ " Weaver recalled. "It was about not judging anything and staying in the process. Eventually what you want to say will come out, if you just say what you want in little pieces."
And the sum of those little pieces about menopause has turned into the greater whole of Menopause Mama.
Menopause Mama will be presented at Perishable Theatre from May 28 through June 29. Call (401) 331-2695, ext. 203.
Issue Date: May 23 - 29, 2003
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