Brand New Jew, A DNA Comedy presents a clever and relevant premise – what would you do if your DNA ancestry test turns up information that forces you to fundamentally change your belief systems and world view? Monica Bauer poses this fascinating question in her pithy one-woman solo show. She is an adopted child who was raised in a staunch Catholic, Polish family with an anti-Semitic father. Her DNA ancestry test reveals that she is 71% Jewish with “family” having died in the Holocaust. She strives to fathom the best route to reconcile these different cultural and religious aspects of herself through a comedic journey of song, memoir and mayhem. She works through the intricacies of this conundrum by giving the discourse “voice” through different characters who speak her situation back to her with candid honesty.
The script is witty and exceptionally well structured. This argument is beautifully unpacked in various stories, tangents and historical perspectives. I think Bauer as a playwright is phenomenal. I recently reviewed her exceptional piece, Vivian’s Music, 1969 which is a powerful work that is going to get Edinburgh all jazzed up. So, I had very high expectations for this production.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Monica should be performing this work in it’s current form. I would prefer her to “perform” the text a la Spalding Gray style – with a simple desk, lamp and seated on a chair reading the script – using it as a springboard to embellish certain points. I find her words so compelling that they require absolutely no artifice, just a truthful delivery – like she is a friend telling her story at a dinner table. Bauer attempts to “perform” this great memoir/discourse, and the characterizations with hats, bad wigs and accents cheapens the mighty text, and it comes across as “hammy.” She clouds her own brilliant work in external sidetracks. She is a wonderful pianist and I would love to see her underscore different sections of her play with relevant, emotional triggering music. Her singing is weak and it would be far better if she used spoken word or “sprechgesang” so we can hear her words more authentically. I also don’t think bringing people up on stage enhances the story in a new way – it only takes away from the magic of the memoir.
Director Maria Caprile has really crafted some stunning theatrical opportunities that would work if Bauer was strong in that particular physical theater, character driven, stand-up comedy style. I think this production is totally able to take the necessary leap to excellence before going to Edinburgh with a “less is more” approach. Trust the story and banish all props. Monica is endearing, I like listening to her tell me about the complexities of her life. That is enough. Don’t try and “act” the text. It is so rich in its truth when just shared honestly. I would also not use Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song on repeat before the show. It is such an iconic, comedic work and it sets up an unrealistic expectation that can’t be fulfilled in the ensuing piece. Perhaps a fusion of both Catholic and Jewish music creating both dissonance and harmony?
I think this show has exceptional potential if it stays true to its heart and doesn’t cling to old, overused theater tricks. I hope it finds its way on the journey across the ocean.
Running time: 55 minutes with no intermission.
Brand New Jew, A DNA Comedy runs July 28 -29 at East to Edinburgh, 59E59 Theaters For more information and tickets visit http://www.59e59.org/moreinfo.php?showid=328