New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"Family Secrets"
37 Arts, Manhattan

You know about “The Three Faces of Eve” and the many faces of “Sybil.” But have you met up with the multiple faces of Sherry Glaser?

Actually, we are talking about Glaser’s one-woman show, "Family Secrets," now lighting up the off-Broadway scene. This is not a woman with a multiple personality, as I’ve suggested, but an actress who single-handedly brings her five family members to life on stage. She is indeed a one-ring circus, as she quickly moves from one to the next, changing costumes and personae in a flash.

Glaser gives us the definitive dysfunctional Jewish family—the sometime-lesbian older daughter, the wannabe promiscuous teen-age daughter, the manic-depressive mother, the loving Bubby who embarks on romance—and, finally, the beleaguered father, a little fat Jewish accountant from Long Island.

Glaser’s devastating family portraits have been around for a long time. In fact, she might even rival “The Fantasticks” in longevity. We saw the show years ago at a Jewish theater conference, and our memory has endured over the years. Though it was faster and funnier in early years, the performance piece has grown richer with time.

(This may have a good deal to do with Glaser’s own history. She was married to Greg Howells, father of her two children, who became her director and helped her shape the show. But in 1995, Howells (a troubled man) disappeared, and was declared legally dead five years later. It took some time for Glaser to get her act together, literally--to perform, to find a new lover, to rebuild her life.)

And now the show goes on. “Family Secrets” is vintage Glaser, a combination of biography and imagination. She opens on a low key, with the father vainly attempting to understand his children. The son, he points out, a graduate engineer from Columbia, opts for an Israeli kibbutz as a shepherd. “We spent $87,000 on his education, and now he’s on a hillside with a harmonica.” The older daughter’s life style as a Lesbian is even more incomprehensible. When she finally changes her sexual preferences, finding a man (non-Jewish, but at least he’s a man, she points out), and becomes pregnant, the father offers reluctant approval via his wallet.

In a quick change, Glaser moves on to the mother, a woman with a speech impediment, blonde wig, and amazing self-assurance, who has come to law school by way of a mental hospital. The teen-age daughter is there in another portrait, flinging herself about, battling with her mother, hiding her drugs, and bemoaning her virginity.

Highlight of the show is certainly the scene in which the daughter gives birth. Granted that it goes on too long, with every contraction and dilation recorded and fed to the audience. But Glaser is hilarious in this scene, in which she pulls out all the stops (to use a pun). It is Glaser at her wildest.

In contrast is the grandmother portrait, a gentle, loving tribute to the woman, the elderly lover she finds, and their struggles to consummate their love. The show ends on a gentle note, like a symphony coming to a quiet end. “Next year you’ll come to Passover with me,” Bubby tells the audience.

All of the Glaser portraits are larger than life, but stingingly real. The humor comes in finding reminders in bits and pieces of one’s own siblings and parents. It is what Jewish humor is inevitably about—chuckles mixed with the pain, laughter mixed with the tears, life mixed with art.

-- Irene Backalenick
March 10, 2006

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