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By MARK BLANKENSHIP
Comedian Judy Gold and playwright Kate Moira Ryan write shows together, but they also take their families on joint vacations. When they join TDF Stages for an interview outside a coffee shop, they talk about their artistic process, but they also bicker about what kind of snacks Ryan should buy. (Croissants, yes; "orange-y things," no.)
Friends this close don't always make great creative partners, but Gold and Ryan insist their friendship makes it easier for them to collaborate. "We do fight," says Ryan. "We've had huge fights, but it's never boring. We could be picking our navels and have a good time."
Taking a beat, Gold adds, "I think we should go to couples' counseling."
That repartee informs The Judy Show, a solo piece about Gold's obsession with sitcom families and her attempt to create a sitcom about her own life. Currently running Off Broadway at the DR2, it follows the duo's first hit, 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, about Gold's experience as a Jewish, lesbian parent. (Her sons, her ex-partner, and her current partner are major parts of her material.)
The Judy Show began with Gold's jokes and ideas. "I had all this stuff, and I wanted to turn it into a real show," she says. "That's when I called Dr. Kate." Ryan adds, "When Judy came to me, I stripped down what she said and threw a lot of stuff out. I said to her, 'What do you want it to be about?' And she said, 'I really want it to be about my quest for my own sitcom and about the sitcoms I loved as a kid.'"
Soon enough, Gold and Ryan tested The Judy Show in productions at Theater J in Washington, D.C. and at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. Ryan says, "It was the best possible process you can have. We had each other in the room."
And what exactly happens in the room? According to Gold: "I go, 'So what I wanna say here is blah, blah, blah,' and she'll go, 'Shut up! Don't talk anymore. Don't talk anymore.' And then she writes it down."
Ryan says Gold is just as feisty: "When we first started working together on 25 Questions, the first couple weeks, I would be so upset because [she was] brash, and I wasn't used to that. I'd be crying."
"Right," Gold says. "I was like, 'Okay, shut up,' and I didn't know she was taking me seriously."
"And finally I just started talking back to her."
"And I was like, 'Yay!'"
Both women say the The Judy Show also needed director Amanda Charlton. "Kate and I are really close friends, and there's a lot of drama all the time," Gold explains. "Amanda couldn't be more WASP-y. No drama. I love directors who come from a completely different walk of life than me. If I had this neurotic Jew? Forget it."
Without hesitation, Ryan adds, "I couldn't handle two neurotic Jews."
Underneath all these jokes, though, there's a serious reason that Gold wants to stand on stage and dream about a sitcom that reflects her experience in a gay family. "Sitcoms are what got me through my childhood," she says. "Sitting there watching these shows and daydreaming and wanting to run away to their homes. These shows opened up a dialogue about real issues. Archie Bunker did, Bea Arthur did, Mary Tyler Moore did. Even Gilligan's Island: That family wasn't a biological family, and that's how so many gay people live their lives, because there's so much rejection from our families that we create our own families.
"I want to do a sitcom like the ones that I watched, so that my kids can watch something like that."
Watching them, it's easy to believe that Gold and Ryan could turn their blend of friendship and comedy into primetime's next hit.
Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor