Did you hear the one about the Jewish mother? If not, you certainly will by the end of "G_d Doesn't Pay Rent Here", Judy Gold's one-woman show about being and having a Jewish mother. This is a funny and intimate evening, delivered with affection and charm by a talented, confident performer. There's very little here that's new, and Ms. Gold and her collaborator, playwright Kate Moira Ryan, have stayed within a dramatic technique as conventional and conservative as an antimacassar. The script still feels a bit unformed, and the rhythms and dramatic balances aren't quite right yet. But what makes the evening so enjoyable is its warmth and humanity, and its appreciation for the commonplace, rather than new insights and striking originality.
With the birth of her child, Judy Gold found herself contemplating her relationship with her own mother, and what exactly it meant to become a Jewish mother herself. The authors interviewed some fifty women of various ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations and social positions. From those interviews they shaped the mosaic of this evening. Combining the ingratiating ease of a veteran standup comedienne with characterizations based on the interviews, the production leads us through a literal portrait gallery.
Some of the pieces derive from unusual circumstances. Ms. Gold is, herself, a lesbian mother, and she draws a number of parallels with other women who in some way break from traditional expectations. Courage in the face of adversity presents itself through a holocaust survivor, the daughter of a holocaust survivor, and other women who have found themselves in situations that forced their self-definition. Against a simple, attractive backdrop of empty, illuminated picture frames (set design by Matthew Smucker), one woman after another is presented, either via recorded voice, or as embodied by Ms. Gold. Each is given enough detail to make them distinct, and enough universality to connect them with each other, and with us.
The style of the pieces ranges from "badda-boom" standup to conversational trifles to heartfelt revelation. Judy Gold easily creates the whole assemblage, and never seems to be straining for performance. Allison Narver smartly directs this versatile performer, and deftly varies our encounters and responses. What I found most attractive about Ms. Gold's style was her warm sense of hospitality, as if we were all guests at a kind of family reunion. The mixture of familiar types and personalities with distinctly individual stories seemed comfortingly appropriate.
This production seems to me like much more than a standup routine, and something less than a real play. Its amusements are slight, but genuine. Its observations are keen, but not penetrating. Its conclusions are clear, but rather general. It is a pleasant, often touching evening, funny enough to be quite entertaining, and humane enough to be engaging. I suspect this world premiere will be the start of a good, long life on the road.
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