"25 Questions for a Jewish Mother"
On Saturday night, I saw Judy Gold's one-woman show 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother.
A 6"3 lesbian Jewish comedian who keeps a Kosher home and is the mother of two boys, Judy Gold (featured in the JWA's film Making Trouble) had me laughing for most of the evening with her jokes about the first book her mother ever read to her (Anne Frank: The Pop-up Book), burying a treyf fork in her mother's potted plant to re-kasher it, and suggesting that Jewish mothers would be great at cooking up crystal meth and dealing crack the way that they're great at cooking up and dishing out brisket. The title of her show was inspired by her quest, in partnership with playwright Kate Moira Ryan, to interview more than 50 Jewish mothers around the country, of different ages and Jewish backgrounds. In a velvet chair (the only prop on stage) Gold brings these subjects to life, impeccably impersonating their rich, nuanced accents-from Brooklyn to Queens to San Francisco to Poland-as well as their physical gestures (tooth-licking and thumb-twittering), as she answers in their own voices many of the questions she posed: "What makes Jewish mothers different from non-Jewish mothers?" "What's your biggest regret?" "Who's your favorite Jewish mother?" "How many times a day do you talk to your children?"
The answers to many of these questions and their accompanying monologues were very funny (and somewhat predictable), though Gold's impersonations might beg the question: do they perpetuate unwanted Jewish stereotypes? Gold thinks not, and I would tend to agree. Her impersonations captured glimmers of Jewish women's experience that may or may not sit well with every audience member, but are still deserving of stage time in a more prominent way than one of Philip Roth's secondary Jewish female characters in his novels. Gold remarked in her show that many of the women she interviewed had never really been asked about their own experience before; their experiences had just been interpreted for them in someone else's voice. So, through the process of asking women questions about their own lives, and in bringing their experiences to life on the stage, Gold seems to honor Jewish women's experiences in a very rich (yet somewhat exaggerated) way.
But 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother was not the Jewish mother rendition of the Vagina Monologues. Mostly, the show struck me as a humorous -- and at times, ironic -- autobiographical expression of Judy Gold's own experience as a Jewish lesbian fitting in (or not fitting in) to her protective, neurotic, and delightfully candid mother's life and expectations. Gold's lesbianism, and her mother's reaction to it, is what really drives Gold's comedy. However, she makes her identity the centerpiece of her shtick in a way that seems to normalize GLBT Jewish experience because many of Gold's personality traits, fears, anxieties, and mothering practices are akin to those of her own heterosexual mother. At the same time, she mocks the hetero-normative lens of the Jewish community and presents a gentle challenge to the Jewish community to be more accepting and open.
Gold also challenges the gender of comedy itself. During part of her show, she mused about how comedy has traditionally been associated with men, and is still considered to be a "guy thing". She reminded the audience, however, of pioneering Jewish female comedians that came before her -- Totie Fields, Sophie Tucker, and Joan Rivers -- lamenting that they never got the props they truly deserved.
With wit and humor, Gold gives voice to Jewish women's experiences and honors her own experience, while not shying away from the struggles, complexities, and absurdities of Jewish women's lives that are still rarely explored.