EMMY Award Winner Takes To The Stage in “Not That Jewish”
By Rose Desena
The Braid is a new art and performance space in Santa Monica, brimming with creativity and events. An extension of the Bergamot Station Arts District, and now home to Jewish Women’s Theatre, you can usually find an art exhibit, acting or writing workshop, a yoga class, or even a performance on any given day of the week.
On Thursday, April 9th at 8pm the official press opening of EMMY Award winning comedian Monica Piper’s show “Not That Jewish,” which has sold out since the first preview, is taking the stage for a run through May 17th…and perhaps beyond. With the same passion that gave momentum to her successful career as a writer in Hollywood she returns to her first love, performing.
Described as a story about life, a brush with death…love, pain, and Mickey Mantle…there is still so much more to cover on this journey. And audiences keep returning to take another ride. The company is revered for their unique brand of “Salon Theatre” here, in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco where they have commissioned 36 short or long-form plays or monologues, adapted numerous pieces, and presented six short films.
To get a better understanding of how it all gets started, Monica Piper answered a few questions about the development of her latest work at The Braid, “Not The Jewish.”
Rose: How was the seed planted for this piece?
Monica: I got a call from Ronda Spinak, the Artistic Director of Jewish Women’s Theatre (and producer of my show), asking if I’d like to write and perform an original piece. “But, Ronda, I’m not that Jewish,” I whined. “Yes, you are,” she insisted. “Just create from the heart.” So, I dug in and thought about the earliest memories of my Jewish past. My first piece was “A Shayna Meydele” about my beloved Yiddish-speaking grandmother, the first person to call me “a pretty girl.” I went on to write and perform six more stories, each bringing me closer to my Jewish roots.
Rose: Did you write it with a plan to perform it?
Monica: Always. I’ve been a stand up comic since 1980. So, much of the success of the stories involves the nuance, timing, and physical comedy I bring to it on the stage.
Rose: You’ve had much success working as a professional writer. How did your process differ when writing this show?
Monica: As a professional writer for TV, I was always writing in someone else’s voice. Whether it was Roseanne (Roseanne), Paul Reiser (Mad About You), Kirstie Alley (Veronicas Closet) or the speaking babies on Rugrats, my job was to write funny things for them to say.
In writing “Not That Jewish,” it was finally in my own voice, in my own style. The hardest thing for me, as a comedian and comedy writer, was to not be afraid to go for a page without a laugh, if it meant that I was getting to the truth. In order to tell the story honestly, I had to open up about failed relationships, my mother’s Alzheimer’s, the adoption of my son, the death of my father, and my breast cancer. Yes, I somehow found the funny in these events, but had to bare my soul, as well.
Rose: How has your perspective on life changed as a result of this production?
Monica: I have always considered myself to be a Jew…”ish” kind of woman. Early on in my show, my grandma tells me, “What’s important is that you’ve got a Jewish heart.” Writing the show forced me to discover what that really means, for myself and for the son I raised. I now definitely feel more connected to the tribe. The enormous success of the show, in workshop, which had been selling out since the first preview, has brought me a validation as a writer and performer.
Rose: Do you hope to publish the script, and if so how do you feel about letting this go as a “play” that somebody else might perform?
Monica: Believe me, we’ve gone back and forth about this. I feel strongly that no one else can perform it – in the same way no one else can do Billy Crystal’s “ 700 Sundays.” So much of the show is the result of a career in stand up. I know there are very funny women out there, but this is my voice, my story, told as only I can tell it.
Rose: What are you working on next?
I‘ve been writing an animated feature with my hilarious writing partner, Sue Kolinsky. We’ve also developed an unscripted show called “Comics: This Time It’s Personal.” It’s about the connection between comedians’ personal lives and the material they do on stage. And of course, I’m always writing new stand up. Life is too funny not to.
Monica Piper has performed on some of America’s most prominent stages, landing her own Ace Award-winning Showtime Special “No, Monica…Just You,” and being chosen as one of that Network’s “Comedy All Stars.” Nominated for an American Comedy Award as one of the “Top Five” female comedians in the country, she was recruited by Rosanne Barr, to write on the series Roseanne. Thus began her television career as a writer for Mad About You and Veronica’s Closet, and as head writer of the #1 children’s animated series, Rugrats, for which she won an Emmy Award. She has headlined across the country, most recently at fundraisers for City of Hope, and The National Alliance on Mental Illness.
NOT THAT JEWISH opens at 8pm on Thursday, April 9th and runs at 8pm all Thursdays and Saturdays through May 16, 7:30pm all Sundays (except May 10th), and 2pm all Sunday matinees through May 17, 2015. The Braid – 2912 Colorado Ave. #102, Santa Monica, CA 90402. Tickets are $35. Reservations: (310) 315-1400 or http://www.jewishwomenstheatre.org