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Theater Review: ‘The Judy Show: My Life as a Sitcom’

Emmy Award winning actress and comedian, Judy Gold stars in the West Coast premiere production of her own memoir entitled “The Judy Show” directed by Amanda Charlton, now playing at the Geffen Playhouse.

By Natalie Chudnovsky

Aug. 19, 2013 12:00 a.m.

Judy Gold is a 6-foot-3-inch lesbian Jewish mother of two in New York’s Upper West Side and all she’s ever dreamed of is having her own sitcom. The premise is promising, but Gold’s act is neither insightful nor funny.

“The Judy Show: My Life as a Sitcom,” is Gold’s one-woman show, which chronicles her experiences at Jewish sleepaway camp, college, various relationships, the birth of her two sons and three rejected TV show pitch meetings. She relates her autobiography, from childhood to the present, through standup style anecdotes and occasional musical interludes on the piano.

If it isn’t apparent by the collage of sitcom posters on set or the seven TV screens arranged on the theater’s back wall, Gold loves television. She explains how she grew from a child infatuated with ’70s sitcoms – the days when she wished she was the seventh Brady Bunch child – into an adult obsessed with starring in her own program.

The theater brochure warns that the show isn’t “intended for younger audiences” – a statement that’s far truer than originally intended. The show’s demographic is quite specific, since Gold’s humor is filled with ’70s TV references that seem to have gone over the heads of the 20-somethings in the crowd but elicited laughs from the older generations.

Gold’s personality is big enough to fill the stage, but the material is tired and Gold doesn’t do much to refresh it. Who doesn’t regret that haircut in ninth grade? Or gets annoyed by his or her family? The show feels like listening to an aunt recite zany accounts from her life. It’s amusing, but a relief when it’s over.

The premise of Gold’s pursuits are noble – she reveals a deep desire to see someone like herself, a lesbian woman with a family, in the popular media and to a fill a void left by the sitcoms of her childhood. But Gold doesn’t push this point toward interesting or original boundaries.

Similarly, brief glimpses into her relationship with her first long-term girlfriend, aliased “Shwendy,” raise interesting questions but aren’t given their fair share of stage time. The lesbian couple must establish who does which parenting tasks outside of the traditional gender-role structure. And after their breakup, the two have to figure out how to raise their sons. Gold raises these issues but doesn’t explain how (or whether) they are resolved.

The most interesting part of the show are Gold’s stories about pitching her TV show to various producers and dealing with the negative responses. In the ’90s, producers thought America wasn’t ready for a sitcom about a gay family, she says. In the 2000s, they accepted the premise but insisted on hypersexualizing it. No one was willing to give Judy the show she truly wanted – one that portrays a realistic lesbian family dealing with problems and gathering laughs along the way.

Less interesting are Gold’s impressions of her relatives and domineering mother. She does get a few laughs as she hobbles around on stage and kvetches in an exaggerated Brooklyn accent, but ultimately they don’t excuse a heavy reliance on tired Jewish stereotypes.

There are moments of poignancy when Gold sets aside the comedic tone and talks about her family embracing her sexuality, most notably when her mother accepts that Gold’s girlfriend of 12 years isn’t her “roommate” and calls their child her “grandson” for the first time. But overall, the show lacks true depth, comedy or originality.

Self-obsessed but not introspective, “The Judy Show” skims along the surface of issues such as homosexuality, heteronormativity, family and media representation but ends up being a missed opportunity to explore the experiences of Gold’s unconventional life.

 

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Natalie Chudnovsky
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