Tag Archives: Theater J

A Gold Star for ‘Mommy Queerest’

By Sarah Breger

Going to Mommy Queerest at Theater J the other night was a bit like going to Miami—the theatre was packed with old Jews and gay people. Luckily, I love both. The one-woman show starring comedian Judy Gold relates the story of her life, her family and her quest for her own TV sitcom through jokes, songs and the occasional Mary Tyler Moore impersonation. Gay, Jewish, the mother of two children and the daughter of the stereotypical Jewish mother on steroids, she has one heck of a story to tell. Gold describes everything from growing up as a tall outcast in high school to realizing her dreams of being a comedian at Rutgers, to her first girlfriend and subsequent breakup, to her current relationship. Most of this is told through the lens of the TV sitcoms of her youth that she watched as an escape from her stifling New Jersey home. Shows like The Partridge Family and Welcome Back, Kotter informed her views of what family and the world should be like. Unfortunately, it was those parts that often fell flat for me  (although admittedly it might be generational—if she had been discussing Full House or 90210, I might have found it hysterical). The parts that were the funniest were when Gold described her relationship to her parents, such as the one time her father asked if she was gay and she denied it or her mother’s paranoia about potential anti-Semitism (“But would they hide you?” she asked of all Gold’s non-Jewish friends).

These autobiographical performances seem to be increasingly popular and but often veer into the self-indulgent (for example, Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays), but Gold manages to avoid that pitfall and create a moving and engaging show. During the second half of the performance, Gold takes us through the various pitches for her show she made with different studios and producers who couldn’t understand the concept of a “manless” marriage or the lack of hot lesbian love scenes.

Unfortunately the play does not go very deeply into Gold’s life—she describes herself as an observant Jew and a lesbian, yet any stories of her grappling with her sexuality or dealing with it in high school or college are missing, as is any information about her faith. Gold ends with an impassioned plea for the legalization of gay marriage—it is one of the only serious parts of the whole production but it hits exactly the right tone and comes off as sincere and not self-righteous. The show kept me laughing the whole time, and even though the production is ending its run at (the truly terrific) Theater J, it is worth seeing on tour. And if Gold finally gets her own sitcom, I for one would watch it.


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Laughter Through Tears

By Jeremy Gillick

Sholom Aleichem, the revered 19th century writer whose earnest, incredulous and good-natured humor came to define a century of Jewish jokes, is back. Not resurrected–Aleichem was never much of a believer, though he undoubtedly would have welcomed the Messiah into the world like an old friend into his home–but reincarnated in the body and voice of Theodore Bikel. At 84, the man who made Fiddler on the Roof into an American story–Bikel has played Tevye the Dairyman upwards of 2000 times–has brought back to life the man whose writings shaped his long and illustrious career.

“Laughter Through Tears,” which recently premiered at the DCJCC’s Theater J and which, following it’s strong reception, was extended to run through January 18th, is a one-man tribute to Sholom Aleichem. Written, acted and sung by Bikel himself, the play offers a moving and funny depiction of Aleichem that is at once sincere and nostalgic. Not just nostalgic for Aleichem, or even for Bikel’s own distant youth, but for Yiddish, a language on behalf of which Aleichem fought an uphill battle for most of his life.

Forced from his home in Eastern Europe by pogroms, Aleichem found himself, alongside countless other immigrants, in a land where assimilation all but required abandoning his native language. But, as Bikel reminds us, Yiddish was the soul of the Jewish people; Aleichem could not have written in any other language for precisely that reason. Despite his best efforts, its use faded. The old country may have been full of dreams and longing, as Bikel explains, but so too is the new one, and the old country is their object.

Bikel’s performance won’t bring back Aleichem or the land and people of his tales, but it gives a glimpse, and that might be enough to forestall the demise of a lost language. In fact, its revival may already be under way.