Who’s Afraid of the Jewish Mother? is a one-woman show conceptualised, directed and performed by Jenny Simanowitz.
In this play, which will preview at the Theatre Arts Admin Collective in Observatory, Cape Town on 1 February, she investigates the archetype of the Jewish mother.
Looking at the history of ‘The Jewish mother’ as a symbol or motif, this colourful character was developed mainly by her sons, who were writing for Broadway and Hollywood in the early twentieth century.
As such, she can almost be viewed as a projection of a predominantly patriarchal society. There are hundreds of jokes based on her behaviour – her possessiveness, her self-pity and her almost obsessive involvement with her children.
However, her story is one of immense courage and strength. It was this mother, who at times of great uncertainty and transition, held the family together as a unit. She gave the emotional support and inspiration necessary to keep everyone unified, particularly when Jews as immigrants often found themselves living in poverty and facing extreme prejudice.
On the lighter side, when asked, “Why the Jewish mother?” she laughs; “Well, having been brought up in a (secular) Jewish family, I had to find out if I was one!”
At present, Simanowitz is based in Austria.
“Writing a piece like this in Austria is still like a ‘coming out’. Because of Austria’s part in the holocaust, Jews are still a kind of embarrassment for them so they do not know very much about Jewish culture. But I found that when I brought Jewish humour and anecdotes into my shows, my Austrian audiences loved it! So, I decided to write this piece to entertain and educate them at the same time!”
Simanowitz uses her own unique mode of theatre known as communication cabaret.
Communication cabaret is a modern, humorous form of conscious raising and knowledge transfer based on communication training. It combines theatre, stand-up, music and interaction with the audience to raise awareness of the dynamics of our relationships in a way that is light-hearted and humorous, but with serious undertones.
With a Keith Johnstone training in improvisation and regularly refreshing her improvisation skills annually through his courses, Simanowitz’s shows deal with the perception of ourselves and of others, through the improvisation skills of conscious and unconscious status games, acceptance and blocking, as well as positive and negative interpretations of reality.
Whether on the stage or in a seminar she transmits her message and her knowledge with images, dramatic scenes and, above all, with humour.
Simanowitz is a strong believer in what she calls the ‘Humanizing of Working Life’, and in the integration of the profit principle with social responsibility and fun.
Who’s Afraid of the Jewish Mother? is delightfully witty. It pays homage to this strong female figure and to a people who had to fight for their dignity and their identity, in a strange and often hostile world.
The Austrian premiere of Who’s Afraid of the Jewish Mother takes place on 24 April at the Atelier Theatre in Vienna. The performance on 1 February in Cape Town is a preview of the premiere.
Who’s Afraid of the Jewish Mother? will run for one night only at the Theatre Arts Admin Collective in Observatory.
Theatre Arts Admin Collective: Methodist Church Hall, cnr Milton Road and Wesley Street, Observatory, 7925, Cape Town. 1 February 2017, 20:00 @ R70.
Five tickets reserved on the night for #PayAsYouCan on a first come first serve basis.