New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"25 Questions for a Jewish Mother"
St. Luke's Theater

Stand-up comic Judy Gold and writer Kate Moira Ryan embarked on a unique project. They spent five years (off and on) interviewing some fifty Jewish women, all mothers, across the country. They reached women of all ages, backgrounds, and occupations.

The material would be incorporated into Gold’s one-woman show, “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother.” As Gold explains it, it gave women the opportunity to examine their lives and express their feelings. It was a new experience for many of their interviewees. They were hit with such questions as, “What makes a Jewish mother different from a non-Jewish mother?” and “What’s the best advice your mother ever gave to you?”

The show, which became a hit last spring, winning Gold a Drama Desk nomination, has returned for another off-Broadway run. Gold certainly has her fans, judging by that nomination and the fact that she has been twice nominated for The American Comedy Award’s “funniest female stand-up.”

But each of us defines humor differently, and, in this critic’s view, Gold’s material is not so much a comic routine as an intimate, earnest chat between women. Granted there are rare moments (as when Gold places a phone order with a sperm bank, as if she were ordering Chinese take-out) that she hits a comic high. But she rarely reaches that level, and certainly not in the portrait of her nagging, overwrought Jewish mother. That character is such a cliché, so predictable, that she elicits nothing more than a yawn. We’ve all heard about that kind of Jewish mother ad nauseum.

Gold is at her best when she is earnestly describing a road not usually taken—her road. She is a Lesbian, a Conservative Jew who keeps kosher, and a gutsy, outspoken critic of President Bush. And she is a mother. She and her partner (who would later split) each gave birth to a child, providing the two sons that rounded out their family.

All of this is grist for the mill, further enhanced by the “25 Questions” project.. Gold tells it all like a friend sharing confidences—serious, thought-provoking—just between us women. But rarely funny. However, she is a gifted mimic, who effectively recreates the myriad of women. At such points, the show becomes strong and moving. But it is certainly a stretch to dub Gold as the “funniest female stand-up.”

Watching a responsive audience (mostly women, and probably many Jewish women) at a recent performance, we must admit that Gold is once more a success, and that this is a minority report.

-- Irene Backalenick
Oct. 12, 2006

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