Published in In Theater
It was kind of a custody battle. There were our celestial parents, and She lay down for a little nap, leaving the kids with their Father. Next thing She knew, it was 5000 years later, and everything was a mess. Now our Heavenly Mother is back to mop up. “I read that Book,” says Ma, referring to the Bible…. “Well just wait ‘til I write MY book.”
Ma is the central figure in “Oh My Goddess”, the latest irreverent one-woman show by comic/actor extraordinaire, Sherry Glaser. It’s less directly personal and considerably more risky than her prior creation, “Family Secrets”, which broke attendance records as the longest running female solo show in Off-Broadway history. In that hilariously touching, frankly autobiographical piece, Glaser magically metamorphosed into five unforgettable characters: her put-upon father; her having-a-breakdown mother; herself at different stages (as a rebellious, bulimic teen and a home-birthing New Ager); and her indomitable Grandma Rose (who almost got her own TV sitcom, but Warner Bros. backed off, because Glaser’s material was “too Jewish”).
This time out, Glaser only makes one transformation, from Miguel, a bandanna-wearing Latino/cholo waiter, to the zaftig, advice-spouting Ma. Risky, you say?
“I’m only taking on the entire Judeo-Christian tradition,” says the 38 year-old pagan, feminist, environmentalist, former (but “trying again”) lesbian, who lives in a house-with-an-outhouse in the backwoods of Mendocino County, California.
“I’m not saying the Bible’s a lie,” she hastens to add. “This is just a rethinking. A simple shift in consciousness. I guess I have a message; I’m kind of a noodge that way. I’m saying, ‘Hey, this planet is in deep trouble. She’s back and She’s gonna save the world.”
The Mother of Us All, in fact, posits her own ten “Simple Rules to Live By” (available as refrigerator magnets). Aphorisms and explications like, ‘’Don’t run. Where are you running?’; ‘Eat your vegetables; you’re eating crap’; ‘Clean up after yourself; this place is a dump. Am I supposed to clean this up? Am I the maid?’ ‘Mind your own business. You got nothing better to do than live everybody else’s life?”
By phone from her wilderness home, Glaser moves effortlessly in and out of her characters. Between questions, she tends to her wailing two-year old, Lucy (it’s the nanny’s day off), and home schools her ten-year old, Dana. She’s recently changed the spelling of her name (from ‘Sheri’ to ‘Sherry’) because her mother told her “‘I’ is the letter of rigidity according to alphabetology, and ‘Y’ is the letter of miracles.”
Glaser spent the last year hoping for miracles. First, her beloved father, so lovingly portrayed in “Family Secrets,” died of liver cancer at age 61. Five months later, her husband, Greg Howells, disappeared.
“He was depressed, and terribly frustrated as an artist,” Glaser admits. “He wasn’t satisfied being my partner, my director, my co-writer. He couldn’t stand the responsibility of being a father or a husband any more…. I’ve consulted psychics, who tell me spiritually, he’s alive. I hope he comes home. I’d welcome him back. But after I hug and kiss him, I’d wanna kill him for how he devastated my daughter, whose heart’s really broken.”
How does she deal with this pain? She writes and performs “Oh, My Goddess.”
“Well, I’m like the Earth Mother. And Miguel is Greg, in his spiritual/emotional journey; he has to deal with the death of his father and come to terms with himself.” Miguel (informed by Glaser’s Spanish/Jewish heritage) was born in San Diego, where Glaser attended college and performed in feminist improv groups with Mo Gaffney and Whoopi Goldberg.
As a work in progress, “Oh My Goddess” played tiny spaces in northern California, where it was ecstatically received. Her San Diego run (through June 28) got mixed reviews (“a bit preachy,” “a delight”). The Goddess will also make appearances at the upcoming Montreal Comedy Festival and the Michigan Women’s Festival. Meanwhile, the actor/writer isn’t remaining idle. Still refining this piece, she continues to perform “Family Secrets” on request, though other actors have also taken on the show. Simon and Schuster published an expanded version of that piece. Glaser’s currently working on a screenplay, and “feeling incredibly creative.”
After “Family Secrets”, she had promised herself she would never do another solo show. “It’s exhausting, an enormous energy commitment. But then this show came to me, this voice in my head, the Goddess, reminding me of the creative powers of women that are left out of most religions, saying ‘You gotta do this. The only way to get the message across is through comedy.’ I feel this is what I was born to do.” And if people take offense, well, “I just hope they’ll write letters, not bring in firearms and crosses.”
©1998 Patté Productions Inc.