You may have heard that David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane’s flaccid musical interpretation of Pedro Almodovar’s black comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is set to close a few weeks in advance of its limited run. No need to rush out and buy tickets, folks, as all the fair to middling faint praise you’ve heard is, unfortunately, on the money.
The film, featuring an unknown Antonio Banderas and the irrepressible Carmen Maura, was released in 1988, a full decade into the Spanish movement known as La Movida – the Madrileno counter-cultural reaction to the death of Franco. It represented a resurgence of the Spanish economy and the forging of a new Spanish identity, characterized by freedom of expression, a spirit of freedom on the streets, and the transgression against taboos imposed by a dictatorial regime. The messiness of that freedom was what Almodovar found himself satirizing: new money, recreational drugs, and free love were a potent hedonistic cocktail for citizens used to being told what they could and could not do.
What the stage adaptation attempts to satirize under the guidance of director Bartlett Sher is, well, nothing. Mistaking the film for a Latin exercise in zaniness, the authors have attempted to craft a screwball musical comedy that’s not terribly musical and only intermittently amusing. (Hats off, however, to the inspired Laura Benanti, who brings down the house with her song Model Behavior and provides most of the evening’s all too few laugh out loud moments.) The talent left to bog snorkel through this muck is impressive: Sherie Rene Scott, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Danny Burstein, and Patti Lupone, who seems to spend half the show crossing upstage in various funny hats.
“Nervous breakdown” is actually a poor translation of the Spanish “ataques de nervios,” which in truth is closer to hysteria or post traumatic stress disorder. This Women on the Verge … doesn’t come close to making that distinction – or minding for that matter.