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Family Secrets

Glaser, along with director and co-author Greg Howells, infuses her work with the type of wonderfully observed details that make even the more eccentric characters uncannily familiar. Presented are five members of a Jewish-American family, from 16-year-old bulimic Sandra to 80-year-old grandma Rose, and Glaser makes each as entertaining and well-rounded as the next.

Glaser, along with director and co-author Greg Howells, infuses her work with the type of wonderfully observed details that make even the more eccentric characters uncannily familiar. Presented are five members of a Jewish-American family, from 16-year-old bulimic Sandra to 80-year-old grandma Rose, and Glaser makes each as entertaining and well-rounded as the next.

Glaser first appears as Mort, the middle-aged paterfamilias befuddled over the choices made by his wife and daughters in their quests for happiness — a concept he questions. Onstage costume changes signal the successive character turns, transforming Glaser into Bev, the mother who triumphs over manic depression; elder daughter Fern, a bisexual New Age feminist; angst-ridden teenage daughter Sandra; and Rose, Mort’s mother, who finds happiness and love very, very late in life.

The well-sculpted monologues, chock-full of laugh-out-loud lines and poignant shadings, are delivered with impressive skill. Glaser and Howells write terrific one-liners, although the show never seems overly jokey, with much credit for that going to Glaser’s characterizations. Her physical transformations are dead-on, and although hints of caricature occasionally creep in, the performances are fresh.

Perhaps the standout in the lineup is Bev, the mother who says she “tried to make perfect kids but they wouldn’t cooperate.” Rose, Mort and especially Fern are just as enjoyable, and only the heavy-metal teenager, Sandra, occasionally falls a bit short.

Although there’s no plot to speak of, Howells’ directiongives the show drive. Lorraine Anderson’s costumes are character-perfect, and the set and lighting are appropriately unobtrusive.

Glaser, whose past work includes founding a comedy troupe with Mo Gaffney and whose solo performances have been well-received in L.A., is a welcome new presence Off Broadway. Here’s hoping she stays put for a while.

Family Secrets

  • Production: A David Stone, Irene Pinn, Amy Nederlander-Case presentation in association with Harriet Newman Leve and Robert J. Linden of a play in one act by Sherry Glaser and Greg Howells. Performed by Glaser. Directed by Howells.
  • Crew: Set, Rob Odorisio; lights, Brian MacDevitt; costumes, Lorraine Anderson; production stage manager, Cathy B. Blaser; general management, Richard Frankel Prods./Marc Routh; press representative, the Pete Sanders Group. Opened Oct. 6, 1993, at the Westside Theater (Downstairs). Reviewed Oct. 5; 250 seats;$ 35 top.
  • With: With "Family Secrets," Off Broadway newcomer Sherry Glaser steps into the solo arena of John Leguizamo, Eric Bogosian and Anna Deavere Smith and more than holds her own. Comparisons might strike some as odd -- Glaser isn't as edgy as Leguizamo, as dark as Bogosian nor as expansive as Smith -- but in her own meticulous, very funny way she creates a family of characters unrivaled by any this side of "The Sisters Rosensweig."
  • Music By: