On & Off Broadway

‘Not That Jewish’

A Review by Elyse Trevers

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The title for this one-woman show by comedian and comedy writer Monica Piper comes from a remark made to the young Monica by a neighbor who noted that she didn’t attend synagogue for the Jewish holidays. Therefore, she was Not That Jewish. Distressed by the comment, Monica seeks clarification and is relieved when her wise grandmother explains that it’s more important to have a Jewish heart.

And so the story begins — a bit slowly at first, but, fortunately, the play picks up nicely, mostly due to Piper’s humor, comic voices and facial expressions. She describes her journey from the Bronx to California as a stand-up comedian. Eventually she settles down as a single mother of an adopted son. Along the way, there were two failed marriages, losses of family members, interactions with Mickey Mantle, several jobs, including writing for Rosanne and Mad About You and even an Emmy as the head writer for TV’s “The Rugrats.”

Expecting a bunch of Jewish clichés, I must admit that I wasn’t looking forward to the 90-minute show. This feeling was heightened by the list of Jewish terms included with the Playbill. Although Piper can’t avoid using some of the old familiar stuff, she does put a different spin on it. A diminutive woman, she strolls back and forth across the stage, often changing her voice, making a series of faces and embodying her characters (mostly relatives). She sets up humor by telling stories and then referencing them later for punch lines.

Although some of the comedy does stem from religion, the funniest lines come from universal situations, especially as she imitates her teenage son whom she portrays as a monosyllabic Neanderthal.

Growing up, she never had any formal Jewish instruction or background. So when Piper adopts a non-Jewish child, she gets the okay from his Christian mother to raise him Jewish. The boy goes to Hebrew school and even has a bar mitzvah. As a young adult he questions whether he is really Jewish since his natural mother was not Jewish. Piper tells him he must decide for himself. When she notes his compassion and caring nature, she realizes that he is truly Jewish since he has a “Jewish heart.”

Piper is genuinely funny and her show is delightful, proving once again no matter what the religion, humor speaks a universal language.