Published in KPBS On Air Magazine May 1998
So you know all about your Heavenly Father, but did you ever think you might have a Heavenly Mother? Well, according to Sherry Glaser, comic and actress extraordinaire, it’s Ma, the universal Jewish mother, who created the universe. “I read that book,” says Ma, referring to the Bible, “and your Father, who art in heaven, He doesn’t even mention my name. Like you didn’t have a mother. Well just wait until I write MY book.”
Ma is the central figure in Glaser’s latest one-woman show, “Oh My Goddess” (at 6@Penn, May 20-June 28). It’s a bit less personal and a bit more risky than her prior creation, “Family Secrets”, which had two sellout runs in San Diego and broke attendance records as the longest running solo show in Off-Broadway history. In that frankly autobiographical piece, Glaser played five characters in her family, including herself at different stages: a rebellious, bulimic teen and a home-birthing New Ager.
This time out, she’s Miguel, a bandanna-wearing Latino waiter, and the voluptuous, advice-spouting Ma. Risky, you say?
“I’m only taking on the entire Judeo-Christian tradition,” says the 37 year-old pagan, feminist, former (but “trying again”) lesbian, who lives in a house-with-an-outhouse in the backwoods of Mendocino County.
“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 “Ma’s Laws” (available as bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets). Aphorisms like, ‘Live and Let Live…. What is it to you who sleeps with whom? Pay attention to what you’re doing. If all your friends jump off the George Washington Bridge, are you gonna do it, too?”
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 (it’s the nanny’s day off), and has to run to pick up her ten year-old (who’s home-schooled).
It’s been a tough time for Glaser. Last year, 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 very depressed,” Glaser admits. “He was terribly frustrated as an artist. He wasn’t satisfied being my partner, my director, my co-writer. It was never enough attention for him. He couldn’t stand the responsibility of being a father or a husband any more…. I talk to him every night, asking angels, anybody, to help me, to bring him back. I consult psychics, who tell me spiritually, he’s alive. I hope he comes home. I forgive him. 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 and his struggles. He’s also having trouble dealing with the death of his father, coming to terms with that and with himself. It occurred to me, after my father died, that I could take all that incredible emotion and make Miguel a full, three-dimensional character. He’s on this spiritual/emotional journey, and in saying goodbye and making peace with his father, he has to clear his chakras — in very funny ways. In the process, he becomes so clear, he channels the great Goddess, Ma.”
Miguel was born in San Diego, when Glaser was in the comedy troupe, Hot Flashes, along with Mo Gaffney, fellow local-comedienne-who-made-it-big-in-New York. Another comic compatriot, Whoopi Goldberg, like Glaser, had done scullery work at the Big Kitchen in Golden Hill.
The fictional waiter (who was informed by Glaser’s Spanish-Jewish heritage) was named Miguel de Cervantes, after the legendary writer who created Don Quixote. Her Miguel, like his namesake, is “sort of a crazy man who chases windmills, a fantasist who makes people ask, ‘Is this a real story? Or did he make it up?”
As a work in progress, “Oh My Goddess” has been playing tiny spaces in northern California, where it’s been ecstatically received. The Monterey County Herald said Glaser “reveals the truth with wisdom, mirth and brilliant acting and writing… making the leap to the whole human family, which, she posits, suffers from parental squabbling and even neglect… Underneath the broad humor and the sparkling characterizations, one feels Glaser’s own compassion for the earth and the creatures who inhabit it.”
The Goddess will 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, like the Goddess, 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.