Portraying five neurotic members of a Southern California Jewish family eight times a week in a one-woman show, commuting from upstate New York to Manhattan with her six-year-old, whom she is “homeschooling,” and dealing with life temporarily without the help of her husband, who is away on business, is taking its toll on Sherry Glaser.
So, she’s done what any stressed-out, modern working woman would do: she’s rubbing Projest Cream on her abdomen, taking calcium lactate and practicing Jinshin Jytso.
“You rub it where your ovaries are. When you put it on, it balances you, it helps you unstress,” says Glaser about the cream, sounding a little bit too much like Kahari, the loopy New Age mystic in Glaser’s very funny Off-Broadway hit, “Family Secrets,” at the Westside Theater. “Since I’ve been doing this, my performances have been much more centered.”
They certainly couldn’t have gotten any wackier. In the one-hour-and-40-minute performance, Glaser plays the wry family patriarch, Mort; his manic/depressive wife, Bev, who thinks she’s Mary (as in the mother of Jesus); Kahari (born with the name Fern); Sandra, an angst-ridden teenager who blames her parents for her overdeveloped breasts and boy problems, and Rose, the octagenarian grandmother who attempts suicide with an oven and half a bottle of asprin.
“Fern/Kahari, yes, she’s me. Rose is me, too,” admits Glaser, sipping eucalyptus-licorice-root tea to help her sore throat. “Rose is very much me, how I am. But it depends on the day of the week. Sandra is based on me as a teenager, the grandmother is based on me, too.”
Bev and Mort are based on the real life Mr. and Mrs. Glaser.
“The first time my father saw me play him, he didn’t like it. He didn’t understand it. He’s subsequently been thrilled because of my success — he doesn’t have to pay the rent,” she laughs.
The 33-year-old Glaser, who transforms herself during “Family Secrets” with a minimum of props and costume changes, says she learned much about her comic timing and delivery from Whoopi Goldberg, whom she worked with in California, where she was the founder of two improvisational comedy groups — along with Kathy Najimy and Mo Gafney.
“We were all seedlings, and then there was Whoopi. I learned a lot watching her,” Glaser says. After Goldberg left San Francisco, she even let Glaser stay in her house for five years. “She did Fontaine, an abused child and a German psychologist all in the same show. They were very real.” “Family Secrets” is also very real, alternately hilarious and poignant, and after performing it for five years on the road around the country, Glaser is almost ready to start with the sequel.
“I think I’ll call it “Family Reunion.”