by Michael Bracken
Think 700 Sundays with Monica Piper instead of Billy Crystal. Who’s Monica Piper? She’s the star of Not That Jewish, an autobiographical one-woman show at New World Stages which, on its surface, resembles Crystal’s memoir of a decade back, winner of the 2005 Tony Award for Special Theatrical Event. Piper made her name as a television writer, with credits including staples like Rugrats and Roseanne, among others. But, like Crystal, her roots are in standup comedy and, also like Crystal, she’s Jewish, as you may have guessed from the title of her show.
Unlike 700 Sundays,which was in major part, a valentine to Crystal’s father, Not That Jewish positions its storyteller front and center in its narrative. Since Piper is an adept performer and writer who knows how to land a joke, that’s not all bad. But it does get a little awkward during the not infrequent spurts of self-adulation. Piper’s talent and success have been recognized and documented, and she’s not shy about letting us know.
She was one of Showtime’s Comedy All-Stars and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. She won an Emmy for her work on Rugrats, and, lest we doubt it, she’s brought it with her for all to see.
Piper’s monologue touches on just about all her life, from childhood on. In addition to her professional triumphs, she shares with us her two failed marriages to blue-eyed goyim, adopting a son as a single mom, the deaths of her parents, and rebuffing a pickup attempt by Mickey Mantle at the St. Regis. But mostly we learn about her family: they’re loud and they talk funny, but they all have hearts of gold.
The show gets its name from Carol Bengelsdorf, a seven-year-old girl that lived across the hall when Monica was a child in the Bronx. Carol questioned the authenticity of Monica’s Jewishness, since her family didn’t go to temple on Rosh Hashanah. Monica convinces Carol that she is in fact Jewish, but Carol still holds back. “You’re not that Jewish,” she says.
Not That Jewish is, of course, a celebration of being Jewish, and on that score alone has a built-in audience eager to join in the festivities. The mere mention of chopped liver or hint of a “meshugganah” sent tidal waves of laughter throughout the theater at the performance I attended. Much is made of having a Jewish heart, which Monica’s grandmother tells her is a truer bellwether of being Jewish than attendance at temple. A Jewish heart shows itself through deeds, acceptance, humor, and compassion. What’s not to like?
If you go to see Not That Jewish, you will have no doubt, by show’s end, that Monica Piper is, in fact, that Jewish. You will also sense that she is a smart woman with a quick wit and that magical ingredient known as comic timing. Yet wit and timing get bogged down considerably as she wades through the treacly landscape of her family history, rendering her, as one of her waspy husbands once suggested, not that funny.
Through January, 2017. New World Stages (340 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019). 90 minutes with no intermission. www.NotThatJewish.com
Photos: Carol Rosegg