The first thing that struck me about half way through Judy Gold’s very funny yet heart-felt one-woman play is how much she and John Leguizamo have in common. What? Okay, so Gold is tall, female, Jewish, and gay, and Leguizamo is short(er), male, Latino, and straight. But they both fearlessly and courageously use family members, friends, associates, and intimates as the essential provocateurs in their solo plays. And both have previously emphasized in their autobiographical purges the more debilitating detritus of their lives. They have apparently arrived at a less resentful phase in their maturity and with a renewed perspective about their careers but, more importantly, they have found better and brighter ways to frame themselves and their past experiences.
“The Judy Show: My Life as a Sitcom” reunites Gold with her writing collaborator Kate Moira Ryan on “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother” performed Off Broadway in 2006. They seem to be a great team, and with additional material supplied by Eric Kornfeld and Bob Smith, they have come up with another solid and satisfying laugh-getter. This production also reunites Gold with director Amanda Charlton who also guided it in its premiere at Williamstown last year.
It’s good to report that Gold has stopped growing and remains 6 feet 3 inches tall, but is increasing her stature in ways that matter. She is ready to give long-awaited credit to her parents where and when it’s due.
What is due and has seemingly emerged for Gold over the past six years is how she has been able to channel being “a lesbian and an observant Jew” into a winningly anecdotal comedy. Like Leguizamo (the comparisons will stop here) she doesn’t allow her stand-up comic’s instincts to compromise the essential course of her play. That course accommodates the life-saving and life-affirming fantasies that Gold saw and interpreted as real life in the now classic TV sitcoms she watched in her youth and in which she took refuge. It seems that the sitcoms reflected nothing even remotely close to the parenting and home life that she knew. But they have a profound effect on a child who from early on begins to nurture a dream to have her own sitcom.
Obsessed with the sitcoms, Gold dramatically recalls her mother’s disapproval: “You’re too close to the TV. Do you want to get radioactive poisoning?” Her mother’s own obsession with being Jewish was also a cause for her over-reacting, as when she almost had a heart attack hearing that David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, was caught: “How could this happen to a nice Jewish boy?”
Growing up in the extremely non-Jewish community of Clark, New Jersey, Gold’s friendships during her school years, including those spent at Rutgers University, were anything but empowering. Obsessed with the sitcoms, Gold dramatically recalls her mother’s disapproval: Playing the piano and singing like Helen Reddy — “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar” — prompted her mother to scream at her, “What are you, a Jew for Jesus? Play something from ‘Fiddler’ NOW!” Gold is delightfully on the comedy mark talking about finding love in New York City just like Mary Tyler Moore.
Designer Andrew Boyce has papered the walls and the ceiling of the set with a collage of colorful photos plus slides and projections depicting the characters in the many sitcoms that influenced Gold growing up during the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. She doesn’t exactly give more weight to one sitcom over the other, but she does distinguish, in contrast to her own, the various family relationships that she envied in those shows with intuitive insight. She lets us know why she loved and wanted to move in with “The Brady Bunch”: “The father was a closet homo, and the maid was a dyke.”
Casually attired in blue jeans and a red shirt, Gold strikes an immediate rapport with her audience, all of whom seem eager to embrace her brand of totally honest kibitzing. Although the show features some amusing original songs by Gold and lyrics by Ryan and Gold, it is the old theme songs that get the audience responding. She is apt to sing the theme song of her favorites, “The Brady Bunch” and “Gilligan’s Island” as jumping off points. Gold is really gung-ho on selling her idea for a sitcom about a lesbian mother with two sons. A running gag finds her peddling her idea to different producers who keep turning her down. But as she reminds us, “It didn’t stop Bea Arthur.”
The winner of two Emmy Awards for writing and producing “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” as well as accolades for her TV and comedy club appearances, Gold shares what it has been like raising two sons “in a 900 square foot apartment with one bathroom on the Upper West Side” and surviving a long-time relationship that didn’t work — and maintaining one that is working.
Holding on to a dream and making it a reality is something to which we can all relate and aspire. Through the sheer force of her conviction Judy Gold is bound to make that sitcom happen and with a theme song to remember. ***
“The Judy Show — My Life as a Sitcom,” through Saturday, October 22, the DR2 Theater, 103 East 15th Street. $65. 212-239-6200.