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Sherry Glaser takes aim at religion in 'The Second Coming'

Sherry Glaser won acclaim in the 1990s with 'Family Secrets.'

November 23, 2011|By Margaret Gray, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Sherry Glaser has a one woman show, "The Second Coming."
Sherry Glaser has a one woman show, "The Second Coming." (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

Sherry Glaser's "Family Secrets" still holds the record it earned in 1995 as the longest-running, one-person, off-Broadway show. The comedy, in which Glaser played five characters inspired by her offbeat family, got glowing reviews and won awards across the country.

Skip ahead 15 years. Glaser's new show, "The Second Coming: A One-Woman Comedy of Biblical Proportions," is now playing at the Two Roads Theatre in Studio City.

Over breakfast on a sultry fall Saturday, Glaser, 51, discussed her own second coming to the stage, an event she naturally ascribes, in light of her divine subject matter and the strange twists her life and career have taken, to mystical as well as material forces.

In the 1980s, as a comedian working in improv, Glaser married Greg Howells, who encouraged her to create "Family Secrets," helped her write and develop it, and directed it as it made its way to off-Broadway.

They had two daughters and were working on an early version of "The Second Coming," then called "Oh My Goddess," when, in 1996, Howells went to play golf and never came back.

His abandoned golf cart was found at the 13th hole, with a copy of a play he had written, "Lazarus," on the seat. "The master playwright," Glaser says wryly of the scene. But if Howells staged his disappearance, nobody has succeeded in interpreting his dramaturgy, and his fate remains a mystery.

Since then, Glaser has focused on raising her daughters and "a lot of political activism, trying to change the world, make it a better place." She married a woman, Sheba Love, with whom she founded "Breasts Not Bombs," an antiwar protest group. She does radio commentary and a music show on stations in Mendocino, where she now lives. .

"I've been doing theater too," she adds. "Mostly not on the legitimate stage, but I've been performing up in Northern California. In the woods ...." Glaser's conversational style is a gentle flow of sentence fragments that move between solemnity and shtick, never wind up where they seem to be heading, and make her breakfast companions, Love and friend Gail Feldman, alternately burst into laughter and tear up. She slips often into the dramatic personae she has created, referring to them, when not actively possessed by them, in the third person.

In "The Second Coming," she plays two characters: Miguel, a Mexican waiter, who is, to his surprise, chosen to channel Ma, Mother Nature, "the great Jewish mother of us all."

Ma, having spent human history sleeping off her 35-million-year labor ("A quick nap, 5,000 years, what could happen? I told your father, 'Watch the kids.'"), has woken up to find the world starving, war-torn, polluted, heavily Republican: a mother's worst fear. Then there's her missing husband's book of "memoirs:"

"Does he even mention my name? No."

"Where's your father?" Ma's question resonates painfully for Glaser and her daughters, now 23 and 15. But "The Second Coming" is not directly about the mystery of Howells' disappearance.

"What happened with Greg is going to be its own entity," Glaser explains. "Whether it's a book or a movie with five endings because I don't know. With all the symbolism and all the theater involved, it's going to be mind-boggling."

"The Second Coming" uses her experience allegorically, as a springboard into the universal. It's also a humorous forum for her progressive world view.

At a young age, Glaser noticed that mainstream religions told only one side of the story — the father's. "I always felt a big religious influence that didn't quite coordinate with the books and the temple and the terrible wars and the killing of the firstborn."

"At one Passover Seder, I was probably 17 or 18… I just started crying at the table," she says. "I'm like, 'Why are we celebrating this? Why are we sitting here eating and talking about dead baby Egyptian boys? Where's the mother? Where's God's wife, who said: Don't you touch those baby boys! No killing! Stop that! You're upset, talk to each other.'"

The nurturing, wise, kvetchy, down-to-earth Ma is a lot like Glaser herself, with a slightly thicker New York accent. (Glaser was born in the Bronx, went to San Diego State University then dropped out to do improv with the all-female comedy troupe Hot Flashes. Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy were fellow members.)

Glaser says Ma takes after her own late mother, who also inspired the character Bev in "Family Secrets."

"When I was growing up, my mother had bipolar disorder, and she believed she was Mary," she recalls. "My brother was Jesus. I'm like, why does he get to be the Messiah, just because he's a boy? It's not fair."

Still, Glaser says, her mother "always gave unconditional love. She was sensitive to injustice. The question of whether she was crazy or divine was always in my mind. And of course she cooked. In the show, Ma feeds the audience — I have to! 'You're all here, you must be hungry, you wanna eat? I'll cook something.' I make a big salad, there's bread. So it's a dinner theater, really."

As for Miguel, the waiter who serves as the vehicle for Ma's return, "I met him about 30 years ago," she says, developing this alter ego in her improv performances, with input from Howells (who was not only a waiter but also "funny as hell.").

In one sketch, Miguel turned up as the waiter at the Last Supper. ("Somebody had to serve the food, right?")

It was while she was in labor with her second daughter that Glaser "got the information that Miguel was going to channel the great Jewish Mother Earth. And not only that: I was told, 'She's coming naked.'"

And if the Rapture does arrive on opening night? Glaser doesn't seem worried. "The Rapture's supposed to be awful, according to the father's side of the family. Horrible things coming out of the sky to kill you, eat your children. You're gonna burn!'"

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