Letting your partner meet your parents for the first time is a big, scary moment in any relationship but it’s even more harrowing when your mother’s opinionated. “I’m Not Jewish But My Mother Is!” shows one particularly nightmarish dating disaster when an unexpected visit from Christopher’s mother interrupts his evening plans.
“I’m Not Jewish But My Mother Is” opens with Christopher (Steve Martin) dancing around his bachelor’s apartment in his underwear, excitedly preparing for a date that evening and gleefully proclaiming that nothing can wreck his mood save for a call from his mother. Cue: call from his mother, who barges into his living room shortly thereafter.
This opening scene is emblematic of what’s to come: something annoyingly predictable but still remarkably charming – and funny! This play is founded on the tired cliché of the overbearing, guilt-inducing, loudmouth Jewish mother and the simple story of hiding her embarrassing existence from prospective life partners. It sounds unremarkable but is anything but thanks to Martin’s cleverly written script and top-notch acting from the cast.
The first act sets the stage by introducing us to Christopher and his mother, played brilliantly by Barbara Seabright-Moore. What could easily have become a two-dimensional caricature is developed into a lovable, interesting, and appropriately complex human being thanks to Seabright-Moore’s particularly sensitive approach to the character. Her over-the-top physical comedy left me in stitches. Martin balanced the scenes well as the comic foil, letting Seabright-Moore’s talents shine without letting the dialogue or action suffer.
While the first act was strong, the second act is definitely where the show picks up with the addition of Felix (Rebekah Shirey), Christopher’s much younger girlfriend. She’s independent, strong, quick-witted, sassy, and quite possibly my favorite character to ever grace The Gladstone’s stage. Felix is an absolute joy to watch because of how effortlessly she plays the room, alternating between encouraging Christopher’s mother in her eccentricities (much to Christopher’s dismay) and pushing her buttons. Watch for Felix’s explanation of why she chose to date Christopher: it was possibly my favorite moment in the show and the audience’s reaction tells me it was beloved by many.
In a heart-warming ending, a friendship forms between the feisty females in Chris’ life and everyone grows a little from the experience. For a show based on something so silly, there’s a surprising amount of character development and heart behind “I’m Not Jewish But My Mother Is”. It provides a thoroughly enjoyable evening of entertainment and is a perfect summer gem. The Gladstone was filled with laughter and love, which is exactly how a theater should be.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d like to hear what you think. Did you like how Felix held her own or were you mortified by her behavior? Does the mother character remind you of your own matriarch or was she an unbelievable stereotype? What’s your worst parent-meet-partner story? Let us know in the comments below.
I’m Not Jewish But My Mother Is! runs at The Gladstone until Saturday, August 8th.