"It's one of the many things we're told to just shut up about as mothers because people are like, 'Eww, gross, lady bodies!'" the Tony winner tells PEOPLE
Laura Benanti's new solo show, Laura Benanti: Nobody Cares, finds the Tony-winning actress taking a self-deprecating look at fame, friendships, romance, pregnancy, motherhood and a bevy of other things she says she's come to learn as a self-titled "recovering ingénue." But there's one lesson that's been a bit more difficult to find out than others.
"I talk about perimenopause, which has just been f------- horrible," Benanti tells PEOPLE when discussing the show, which plays Audible’s Minetta Lane Theater in New York City from Feb. 2-4. "It's one of the many things we're told to just shut up about as mothers because people are like, 'Eww, gross, lady bodies!' "
The 44-year-old star says she had no idea what was happening to her when she first started experiencing perimenopause, the often years-long transition prior to menopause when hormones fluctuate. Women can experience a range of symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, insomnia and irregular periods.
"It was a total mystery to me because in all the years of being a functioning woman, it was never explained to me once," Benanti says. "Menopause, they're like, 'Okay, we got to acknowledge this is real.' But perimenopause is just a surprise party! And I don't know why."
"So I call it 'the menopause appetizer that nobody tells you about,' " she jokes. "It's 'the amuse-bouche to an old cooch.' "
The No Hard Feelings actress joins a growing list of stars like Naomi Watts addressing the lack of conversation around perimenopause. Back in November, Gwyneth Paltrow opened up to PEOPLE about the taboo topic, warning that it’s easy to feel like you’re “losing your mind" when experiencing it for the first time.
"It's quite a roller coaster," Paltrow said of being in "the tick" of perimenopause, noting that her friends were going through the same thing, but no one ever mentioned it. “I just thought it was so strange that there was nowhere that I could go to understand if everything I was going through was normal. ... So now we're trying to just talk about it more."
The Oscar winner and Goop founder said simply talking about menopause, which is defined as twelve months without menstruation, or perimenopause can help women manage symptoms and understand that it’s a normal and natural transition.
“It's nothing to be hidden," she said. "...I'm just glad everybody's talking about it because it used to be so full of shame and it's just another chapter for us."
Another chapter, it is, but Benanti sees the information gap as having much to do with the role women take in society.
"Can you imagine if this happened to men?" she teases to PEOPLE. "In perimenopause, our hormones are changing as rapidly as they were when we were in middle school. If men experienced that, scientists would be like, 'To the Galapagos we go! Find every endangered plant and animal and use them to make it in man medicine!' And meanwhile, women are over here with a swarm of bees in our uterus and our skin falling off. And everyone's like, 'You're fine.' "
They say, 'Mothers are strong,' " Benanti adds. "F--- you! Yeah, we are. But also, we could use some help once in a while."
Fans can expect quips like that when they head to Laura Benanti: Nobody Cares. Directed by Annie Tippe with a book by Benanti, theshow featuring original music co-written by Benanti and Todd Almond.
"I feel like as actors, we sort of wait around for somebody to either write us the perfect part or decide we're perfect for a part. And I got tired of waiting, and so I just thought, 'You know, I'm going to be brave and I'm going to write my own show.' And then I realized: the only thing I am qualified to do is talk about myself. That’s why I am an actress. So, that’s what you’ll get."
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It will stream at a later date on Audible, for those unable to make it there in person — something that drew Benanti to the project when she was first approached by the audio streamer to create a show for them.
"The thing I love about theater is that it's ephemeral and there's a magic to that, but that's also the thing that makes it sort of sad because it's so temporary," Benanti says. "So I'm really excited about people being able to listen to it. And who knows, maybe we'll be able to turn this into a TV special one day. You gotta dream big."
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