G-D DOESN'T PAY RENT HERE
The Empty Space Theatre, 3509 Fremont N., 547-7500, $20-$30 7:30 p.m. Tues.-Thurs.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 7 p.m. Sun.; 2 p.m. matinees select Sat.-Sun. ends Sun., June 30
IF YOU LIKE cheap humor, you might be able to get a little something out of G-d Doesn't Pay Rent Here, Judy Gold's solo reflection on Jewish mothers. Gold's shtick is obvious, but she can be funny in, well, an obvious way. (The opening crack, read on tape by Gold's own mother: "How many Jewish mothers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" "None—I'll just sit in the dark." Ba-doom-boom.) Unfortunately, it's also shallow humor masquerading as irreverent depth. The show isn't the worst thing you'll ever see, which is too bad because at least then it would be more memorable. It's just aggressively mediocre.
You have to say "aggressive" because Gold seems ready to snatch your head off in her attempt to put this over. A stand-up comedian, actor, and former co-producer of The Rosie O'Donnell Show, Gold gives off the vibe that she's worked hard for everything and does not suffer fools (or anyone, for that matter) gladly. When someone can publicly harangue her mother for 90 minutes, watch out.
The piece, co-written by Kate Moira Ryan, is ostensibly an exploration of what it means to be a Jewish mother, using Gold's overbearing mom as a central motif. There isn't anything new in jokes concerning the elder Gold's domineering, self- imposed martyrdom, but the comedian is having fun here with the familiarity: In one bit, she imagines mom trying her hand at stand-up comedy, an attempt that results in Mrs. Gold chastising her unresponsive audience with "I worked so hard on this material, and you people just sit here and stare at me!" Gold's own stand-up material, woven throughout the show, also has its moments—her unapologetic brazenness is amusingly ripe when she underplays it ("Just had a baby 10 months ago. [It] came right out my vagina").
But big-mouthed Judy goes biting after more than she can ever chew. What could've made for a comically observant, if unexceptional, stand-up act has been grafted onto a paint-by-numbers one-woman show: Woman regales us with personal stories until she makes a Very Important Statement. The comedy is paired with half-baked reflections in which, for instance, Gold speaks . . . very . . . haltingly . . . about . . . the Holocaust . . . in an attempt to convince us that her play may be significant. You're treated to impersonations of other Jewish women, interviewed by Ryan and Gold, who have faced seemingly insurmountable odds. Though we get to hear static-y sound bites of these women (and, strangely, they all sound rehearsed), we only get to meet them through Gold, whose efforts at full-blooded transformation will not be keeping either Lily Tomlin or Anna Deveare Smith from a good night's sleep: "My muzzer, she vas the strong, practical vun," croaks Gold as a concentration camp survivor. Oy.
Factor in the news that our host is an out lesbian with a partner, two kids, and a big chip on her shoulder about it, and you can imagine that the evening all comes down to Gold, anyway (though on Sept. 11, we're told, she had a revelation that the world was not just about her—a brave, brave thought). The closing idea that "we are all Jewish mothers" is as limp as it is unearned.
You wonder what it was that the usually imaginative Empty Space director Alison Narver could have contributed to all this. It seems like no hands have touched the show, and after an hour and a half with Gold in your face, you can make a pretty good guess whose fault that was.