What do you call a Conservative Jewish lesbian mother of two boys? Very funny, in the case of Judy Gold, who’s performing her 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother at the Huntington Theatre Company’s Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts through December 31.
When we say Conservative, we’re not talking right wing. She did, after all, get into some trouble with the Homeland Security folks — and her mother — for calling President W “a living, breathing sack of shit” at a Howard Dean rally during the 2004 campaign.
This is “Conservative” as in the branch of Judaism in between Reform and Orthodox. She is still a practicing Jew, though don’t invite her to the same party as those humorless prigs who think that having fun with Jewish stereotypes is a sin against some moral code. Gold has a doozy of a stereotype to poke fun at — her ultra-protective, totally dismissive, deliciously self-absorbed kvetch of a mother.
Sound familiar? Sure, and even though no one has been able to one-up Philip Roth’s Lady Portnoy for the past 40 years, Gold gets a silver for making something so humorous — and touching — out of her quest for trying to figure out what makes this species of humanity so, well, special. The comedian-monologuist set out with playwright Kate Moira Ryan to interview more than 50 Jewish mothers. In recounting those interviews, Gold, seated on the chair that’s the only prop on stage, shifts shapes and tweaks accents in bringing them to life, going from demure to demonic.
Not that she comes up with any great answers to the mother question. There are common threads, such as a distrust of outsiders exacerbated by the Depression and the Holocaust, though this anthropological analysis can seem a little pat.
But the big draw here — and she is big at 6’3” — is Gold herself. She’s a riveting presence for the entire 80-minute show, whether recounting how she was the angriest vagina ever in The Vagina Monologues or talking about giving birth to Ben, her second son. Speaking of anger, when she’s recounting some of the conversations between her and her mother, her index fingers flash like Exacto knives as they go for each other’s jugular.
Gold the elder certainly has some interesting variations on the Jewish-mother theme. The first book she reads her daughter is a pop-up Diary of Anne Frank, and her reaction to the news that she’s going to be a grandmother — even though it’s not Gold who’s giving birth — is priceless in its eye-rolling, lip-smacking build-up to hysteria. At one point Gold repeats part of her opening monologue as if her mother were giving it in classic bent-over yenta form and then embellishes it with Mom cooking up crack as if it were brisket.
There is, of course, a mother-and-daughter reunion — Mom gives the opening cellphone speech, after all — so for all the screaming and plotzing it’s the perfect holiday-season show. Except maybe for those who think the president isn’t a sack of shit.
25 QUESTIONS FOR A JEWISH MOTHER | Boston Center for the Arts, Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St, Boston | 617.266.0800 | $15-$50 | Through December 31