When You're Tryin' to Love Two

I preface this entry by saying that aside from being elected the first African-American president, there is probably no greater feat in my mind than pulling off a one-person show. It takes such chutzpah that even the act of not completely pulling it off is still a triumph of the spirit, of the timeless human drive to make meaning of our lives, to show that among the millions of people across several millenia who have lived and died, this story also matters. And that's a noble effort, indeed.

But when all things are equal, as they mostly are in the following two reviews of recent one-person shows, what makes one float and the other take on water? In the case of Tony Braithwaite's Look Mom, I'm Swell vs. Judy Gold's 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, there are plenty of parallels. Both shows, obviously, explore their creators' relationships with their mothers. Both grew up as awkward, drama-loving outsiders. Both use impressions in their act, I guess to diffuse the cumulative effect of watching one person talk about him/herself for an hour-and-a-half. And both were professional pieces performed in major area houses (Gold's house was a bit more major than Braithwaite's but I suppose major is in the eye of the beholder anyway). So why did I like one so much more than the other?

I guess the difference here is partly due to the intangible charisma factor--Braithwaite is just slightly more humble and self-effacing--but I think it also helps that he's just plain more honest about what he's trying to achieve. Tony Braithwaite wants to talk about Tony Braithwaite, pure and simple, and in this honest (internal) declaration, he makes it his business to convince the audience he's worth watching. Gold is less honest about her goals, and though what she really wants to discuss is her relationship with her mother, she builds a complicated structure that not only distracts from her own story, but might just have been a better idea on its own. Or at least an entirely worthwhile--but separate idea. If someone invites you over for a dinner party and during the hors d'oeuvres whips out their Amway catalogue (or whatever Jewish women sell, say, Pampered Chef housewares), you're going to spend the rest of the evening feeling at least a little taken aback. Gold isn't selling Amway with her act, but it's not exactly the dinner party she promised, either.

Anyway, you can judge for yourself. Here's my review of Tony Braithwaite's Look Mom, I'm Swell. Here's my review of Judy Gold's 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother. Both are from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

December 16, 2008 12:44 PM | | Comments (4)


Here's the link...mind the star system please:


It really is so much about chemistry. I mean, maybe I favored Braithwaite because he's a Philly guy, and I really wanted to root for the home team at that show. But I would totally have coffee with Gold, just without the extra sugar and cream, and probably not at $50 a cup.

Will you send a link to your review?

I saw and reviewed Gold when she was in town performing "Jewish Mother." Your review made me go back and re-read what I had written and it got me thinking about the nature of the relationship between the performer in a one-person show and audience members. (It also made me shed another tear over our use of a star system...nothing says nuance like a star system.)

A show like Gold's veers so close to being an evening spent having a conversation with someone (who does voices and has a sound crew that travels with them) that it seems to me that one's reaction comes pretty close in nature to walking away from a first date. Are they the kind of person you'd like to have a cup of coffee with or are you never going to call them again?

For my part...I stood outside Gold's window holding a boombox above my head blasting Peter Gabriel.

'cause that's how I roll...

One person shows are the ultimate for writers and performers, but can turn indulgent on a dime.
The show and the performer have to be doubly engaging to capture an audience.

Spaulding Gray was one of my favourite solo writer/performers. I never longed for other performers, or stories.

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