Comedian Judy Gold speaks the truth when she says “There’s a little Jewish mother in every mother.”
Which makes her play, “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother,” co-written with Kate Moira Ryan, so universal. And a very big hoot.
So prepare yourself: Arizona Onstage Productions opens the comedy this weekend.
The play is funny, but never unreal. As it should be: It’s based on more than 50 interviews with Jewish mothers across the country — including Gold’s own.
When she staged the piece in New York in 2006, Gold did all the characters. The New York Times called it “fiercely funny, honest and moving.” “Howlingly funny and surpisingly moving,” said the New York Post.
At the Arizona Onstage production, four actors share the load. And a couple of Tucsonans will have their stories included: Arizona Onstage put a call out for essays, and the two top ones are incorporated into the piece.
We had a few — OK, four — questions for director Sheldon Metz, who answered them through email:
1. What about this play compelled you to direct it?
“Being Jewish, I grew up with these women. I had my mother, grandmother, and two aunts living in the same house. In effect, I had four Jewish mothers, all telling me what to do — sometimes different things and at the same time. I wanted to see if my situation was unique. It wasn’t.”
2. When Judy Gold performed this, she played all the parts. What kind of impact does it have on the show to split those monologues, if any?
“I think having various people play the other women roles accentuates the stories that should be heard. Instead of listening to a comedy routine by the very talented Ms. Gold, we hear real-life stories, many humorous, some not so.”
3. I know you were close to your mom (you are such a good boy) — give me your favorite/funniest anecdote involving your mom.
“My late mother was a card. Nothing embarrassed her. If you ask for the funniest, the paper’s not big enough. But, I remember a true story when I was a child. I was 7 years old when I went to parochial school. The principal, who was also the rabbi, had just punished me for something I did (perhaps drinking chocolate milk with my salami sandwich, which I often did. Jews don’t eat meat with dairy). I told the principal my mother would beat him up because she was a wrestler on TV. My mother was called and asked to leave work and come see the principal.
“When she arrived, the principal laughingly told her my imaginative story about her wrestling on TV. She told him she did wrestle on TV, and asked if he wanted to see her really get mad. A week later, I was in public school. Funny, but I’ve remembered this story all my life.”
4. Mothers are rich fodder for theater – from “‘night Mother” on one extreme to “25 questions” on the other. What do you think it is about mothers that makes for such compelling theater?
“I think the reasons for writing about dear old mom vary greatly between writers. For many, it’s a catharsis. Children remember the bad, the pain, but the good memories are rare. It’s getting the bad memories out, sharing them with others, and hoping this will cleanse our ‘bitter memories,’ or diminish the effect of those memories in our minds.
“For most, I hope, it’s a method of honoring someone, that dear old mother again, who we fought with, disagreed with, even hated at times, and now realize she was right all along. Fathers disciplined us, but mothers taught and protected us. If they were put in the role of disciplinarian, it was a rarity we’d remember.
“Perhaps, it’s because we never told them, at least not enough or as much as they told us, that we loved them. Perhaps they’re gone now, or too old to understand their children’s current efforts at showing them love. But, deep down I hope that love is part of it. Until I was an adult, I never appreciated the things my mother did for me at the time she did it. I usually thought of it as punishment. As George Bernard Shaw said, ‘Youth is wasted on the young.’”