Monday, May 11, 2015

Theatre Review: 'My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding' cheerfully embraces diversity

L-R: Jennifer Theby-Quinn, Ben Nordstrom,
Laura Ackermann
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Who: New Jewish Theatre
What: My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding
Where: The Jewish Community Center, St. Louis
When: May 7-31, 2015

The New Jewish Theatre production of David Hein and Irene Sankoff's unapologetically autobiographical musical "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding" is a pleasant and pleasing little show. It's so light that a stiff breeze would blow it away, but its heart is in the right place, which counts for a great deal.

And its celebration of love, marriage, and family in all their various permutations could not be more relevant as the USA struggles with the issue of same sex marriage—settled a decade ago in Canada (where the show takes place) with considerably less hysteria than we're seeing here.

L-R: Deborah Sharn, Laura Ackermann
The slight story, based on the real-world experiences of Mr. Hein's mother, centers on Claire, a middle-aged, divorced psychology professor in Nebraska who takes a teaching job in Canada, discovers her gay sexual identity by falling in love with the free-spirited Wiccan Jane, and gets involved with the fight for marriage equality in her adopted home. Her son David joins her, meets and marries Irene, the daughter of a conservative member of the Canadian government, and finally gets to see Jane and his mom married when Canada legalizes same-sex marriage in 2005. Claire has a moment of panic at the titular wedding, but all ends happily in a cheerful ceremony that is an amusing blend of Wiccan and Jewish traditions.

Laura Ackermann heads a fine cast as Claire, constantly questioning her decisions, struggling with a conservative mother (whom we never see), and generally trying to figure out who the hell she really is. The vacillation becomes a bit tiring towards the end, but that's a script issue. Ms. Ackermann's performance is consistently warm and welcoming.

L-R: Anna Skidis, Chase Thomaston, Jennifer
Deborah Sharn, who is seen far too infrequently on local stages these days, is Jane, afraid of nothing and always ready to support Claire. I've known Ms. Sharn for many years now and may be a bit biased, but I thought her performance here was just about perfect. Like most of the characters in this show, Jane is a bit of a cipher—we don't really get much of a look at her inner life—but Ms. Sharn makes the most of what the authors have given her, creating a character that is consistently engaging

David is portrayed by two actors. St. Louis University High School freshman Pierce Hastings plays the teenage version, while the every-reliable Ben Nordstrom is the adult, narrating the show from the sidelines and finally taking over when David moves to Canada. Mr. Hastings doesn't look anything like Mr. Nordstrom, which is a bit disconcerting, but otherwise the conceit works well enough.

Mr. Nordstrom, for his part, connects quickly with the audience and easily carries the narrative burden in disarmingly friendly fashion.

Jennifer Theby-Quinn is a treasure as always as David's love Irene (both characters modeled on the play's creators). John Flack has great fun as David's somewhat befuddled dad, coming to terms with his ex-wife's new identity in the comic number "Hot Lesbian Action." Ensemble members Anna Skidis, Chase Thomaston, and Pierce Hastings take on an impressive variety of roles, something switching sex in the process.

L-R: John Flack, Jennifer Theby-Quinn,
Anna Skidis, Deborah Sharn, Pierce Hastings,
Laura Ackermann
Director Edward Coffield keeps the show flowing smoothly, with nice stage pictures, amplified by simple but effective choreography by Liam Johnson. Margery and Peter Spack's bright, colorful set strikes just the right tone of whimsy, and the band under the direction of Charlie Mueller does well by the rather bland score.

"My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding" is ultimately a festival of musical situation comedy. Numbers like "Don't Take Your Lesbian Moms to Hooters" (yes, David really did that, apparently), "You Don't Need a Penis" (in which David's moms give sex advice to the comically mortified Irene), and "A Short History of Gay Marriage in Canada" are very funny, entertaining, and provide more than a spoonful of sugar to help the political message go down. I think you'd have to be a dedicated Santorum-style conservative to object to the script's message of acceptance and love.

Yes, the theatrical stakes never feel very high. And despite the wealth of possible sources of dramatic conflict, nothing much really happens during this musical's 90-minute run time. There's also an awful lot of "I'm OK, you're OK" new-agey affirmation. But, as I say, this show has so much heart and generosity that I was willing to set most of that aside.

Performances of "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding" continue through the end of May. If the night I saw it in any indication, the show is selling out quickly, so it's probably better to get tickets sooner rather than later. More information is available at

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