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You Want Guilt With That?

Date: Jan 24, 2007


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For many comedians, laughter is a drug so grafitying and addictive that they'll do almost anything to keep feeling it. But for standup comic Judy Gold--whose one-woman show 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother is in a long run at the Theatre at St. Luke's--a sense of connection with an intent audience can be just as precious as laughter.

"When you do standup, you're trying to keep people's focus, but when you do theatre, they come focused," Gold marvels. "You're not fighting noise; there are no drinks being served, no hecklers, no people being seated. It's wonderful to have a captive audience; I cherish it." As great as it is get laughs, in other words, Gold says it's "also really exciting to hear people cry and see them listening."

What they're hearing in 25 Questions is the result of years of Gold's interviews with dozens of Jewish mothers about their approach to child-rearing and religious identity. She talked to an Orthodox Jewish woman who said she would "sit shiva" for a child who married a non-Jew, essentially proclaiming that child dead; she talked to a Chinese woman who converted to Judaism for her husband.

Gold also talked to her own New York-raised mother. In fact, they talk daily, and not just on the phone.

"She emails me now," Gold says with a touch of bemused exasperation. "If there's one day that I miss, I get, 'What happened yesterday?' "

The inspiration for the show was Gold's own belated realization that she herself was reliving many of stereotypes of the Jewish mother: the overprotectiveness, the self-deprecation, the guilt inducement.

"I never thought of myself as maternal at all, and then I had kids," says Gold, a lesbian with two boys by artificial insemination. "One night the babysitter was late bringing my son back, and I was wandering around the neighborhood thinking he was abducted. I was like a Lifetime movie.

"And I hear myself repeating exactly what my mother said to me. Things like, 'Why are you doing this to me?' " Gold has come up with her own innovative variations, though. "I have a new one I've been using. My older son is very good at arguing, and I say, 'I hope you treat your teachers and your friends nicer than you treat me.' "

The obvious upside of overprotective parenting is that, while the children may take it for granted, they bask in a deep reservoir of love, or at least attention. "I do think we feel safe because our mothers are a little overbearing," Gold says. "When we interviewed the women, no matter how religious they were, they all spoke to their children every day, some five or 10 times a day. They had to have some kind of contact with their child. And maybe the reason we feel free to make fun of this is that we feel so safe. You know your mother's never not going to love you."

Except, of course, for the one woman who said she'd disown a child who married outside the religion. Gold says she's skeptical of the claim: "I didn't really buy that. I think there's no way you could cut that bond."

After all, there's a practical reason to stay in touch with your kids. As Gold says of her sons: "I just want them to visit me at the Hebrew Home for the Aged."

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