Puerto Rican waiter channels Jewish mother on Marin stage

What do you get when you mix a Hispanic waiter with a spiritual crisis? A Jewish mother, of course.

And not only a Jewish mother but "The Great Jewish Mother of us all," says Bay Area humorist Sherry Glaser.

Glaser, whose "Family Secrets" broke off-Broadway box office records, brings her latest work-in-progress, "Diosa!: Oh My Goddess," to the Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael from Thursday, Feb. 27 to March 27.

"Diosa" ("goddess" in Spanish) is the serio-comic tale of Miguel, an ordinary waiter who, in the course of a physical and spiritual crisis, becomes an unwitting medium, the channel for the "Great Jewish Mother."

The situation takes off from the popular feminist Goddess cult, among other things.

Glaser plays all the parts. Her husband, Greg Howells, is co-author and director of the show.

"My work tends to be both serious and sendup at the same time," she says.

"The pagan movement has been accused of taking itself too seriously. I think the only way to get a point across is to make people laugh, but I do believe there's a Mother out there — and She's a Jewish mother."

Glaser's own motherhood has a lot to do with this belief. She has two daughters, ages 9 and 9 months. "When I gave birth, I began to wonder, `Where was the Mother in all of this?'" she recalls.

She's been searching ever since.

Glaser says she gives her characters aspects of her own personality. Miguel is searching for his spiritual center, too. "He's on the road."

That he is Hispanic presents a double-edged sword. "He's an unlikely candidate and I like to break stereotypes," she says. "But it also judges the way we cast minorities into certain roles. He's a waiter; he's been a waiter through a series of lives. He can't get another job. Is that society or his karma?"

The other character, "Ma," reflects Glaser the humorist, Glaser the mother and Glaser the Jew much more directly.

"In her mind, she created the universe but, after all that hard work, the business in the Garden really upset her. So she says to her husband: `So, I'm gonna go away, take a little rest. You watch the children for a while.'

"She treats the audience as her babies and she has a lot to say to them. After all, she's been on vacation for 5,000 years," Glaser adds.

"Moreover, God hasn't even told them she exists. She's not in His book. `I read that book,' she says. `Just wait till I write my book!'"

The story is "about custody. It's about love and responsibility, not guilt and retribution. That's what I believe in."

It's also about humor, a peculiarly Jewish humor that is reflected in all her work.

"I don't know why or where it comes from — that we have this humor," she says. "Perhaps it's built into the Jewish character."

Glaser's own mother hails from a long line of Sephardic Jews who fled Spain and settled in Turkey. "Our seders were in Spanish," she recalls (giving her yet another point of contact with the waiter Miguel).

Her father, who died earlier this month, was from an Ashkenazi background and more of a Zionist than a religious Jew.

She grew up in the Reform tradition but, except for Chanukah ("I love the lights and the whole idea of light") no longer engages in formal observance.

"I'm Jewish in my blood and I always will be," she says. "But there's no atonement, just the positive aspects of it."

Suzanne Weiss

Suzanne Weiss is a freelance writer in the Bay Area.