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Review: 'The Judy Show' explores the power of the sitcom family

Critics Choice

June 27, 2013|By Margaret Gray
  • Judy Gold comes onstage through a door stage right, just like the sitcom characters she aspires to be, in her one-woman show "The Judy Show: My LIfe as a Sitcom" at the Geffen Playhouse's Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater.
Judy Gold comes onstage through a door stage right, just like the sitcom… (Michael Lamont )

How the Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage will affect comedy may not have been the first question on everybody’s mind Wednesday. But for the audience at Judy Gold’s one-woman show, “The Judy Show: My Life as a Sitcom,” at the Geffen Playhouse, it was a pressing concern. The show, an extended stand-up act written by Gold and Kate Moira Ryan and directed by Amanda Charlton, first ran in New York in 2011. Would the news change it?

Gold has spent a lot of her adult life trying to broaden the definition of the “normal” American family so that it can include her own: She’s a Jewish lesbian comedian with two sons, an ex-partner, a new girlfriend and a difficult mother.

Almost sounds like a sitcom, doesn’t it? Gold, who as a misfit child (reaching 6 feet 3 in her teens) dreamed of climbing into the TV set to become a Brady or a Partridge, certainly thinks so: “Even the project in ‘Good Times’ was better than Clark, N.J."

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In fact, while she was parlaying her self-deprecating, amiable wit into a career (comedian; writer and producer for “The Rosie O’Donnell Show”; star and co-writer, also with Ryan, of the off-Broadway hit “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother”), she kept pitching a sitcom about her life as a gay mom. The studio executives kept passing on "The Judy Show," but doing a theater piece about her thwarted dream doesn’t mean she’s given up on it.

Gold, 50, is an enormously likable performer — except for her flawless comic timing, she could be a mom straight from the carpool line. She plays piano and sings real and made-up sitcom theme songs in an unpretentious bray. She’s sarcastic but not bitter. She doesn’t want to subvert either sitcoms or families — she adores both. She just wants to be part of the lineup.

There isn’t a real “road map” for lesbian parents, she explains. And as her references to the sitcoms of the 1960s and '70s suggest, those fictional families still hold powerful sway over us.

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It’s a little sinister, actually: I no longer actively want to be a Brady or a Partridge, but Andrew Boyce’s set, featuring publicity photographs of casts as familiar to me as my own family, put me in a stage of pliant nostalgia. And seeing in the opening-night audience two “Brady Bunch” cast members, Florence Henderson and Christopher Knight (sitting together!), threatened my already fragile hold on the boundary between life and TV.

Even so, how is it that Gold can send us into hysterics with a joke about the replacement of Dick York by Dick Sargent on “Bewitched” (“We’re just supposed to accept it? It’s a different … person!”)? That happened in 1969! Why can’t we move on? Sitcoms are the Trojan horses of cultural progress, masking profound changes with their feckless characters and dopey scenarios. They sped the acceptance of blended families, single mothers and career women, among other lifestyles that once threatened the status quo.

So it makes sense that Gold’s acknowledgment of Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings was upbeat but restrained: For gay marriage to really stick, it still needs that sitcom. I vote for “The Judy Show” as the first.

ALSO:

Judy Gold dreams of her gay-family sitcom

Tony Kushner: Gay marriage rulings help to realize his themes

Gay marriage rulings: Prop. 8 playwright Dustin Lance Black reflects

“The Judy Show: My Life as a Sitcom.” Geffen Playhouse’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 28. $69-$74. (310) 208-2028 or www.geffenplayhouse.com. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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