Actress brings revamped ‘Goddess’ back to Marin

Ideally Sherry Glaser would be touring the United States in a solar, hydro-wind-powered car covered in bumper stickers like “Save the Earth.”

And in her fantasy, the actress and playwright would be followed around by adoring fans and social activists. At each stop along the way, she would do tikkun olam — performing her one-woman comedy “Oh My Goddess” to sold-out audiences, while raising money for the environment.

For now, however, the Mendocino County resident is spreading her message to local audiences.

“As long as the comedy I’m offering is inspiring people who want to make social change,” said Glaser, “then that’s the level I want to be at.”

Glaser will bring “Oh My Goddess” to the Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael tomorrow and Sunday. The ever growing and changing comedy, which Glaser called “a work in progress,” was last seen on a Marin stage four years ago.

“Oh My Goddess,” centers on the shmaltzy, kvelling Goddess Ma (God’s better half) and the Latino waiter, Miguel de Cervantes.

Upon waking up from a 5,000-year nap, Ma is unhappy to see the state of her house, the Earth, which was left in the hands of “Pa” while she slept. She is also disconcerted by a huge oversight in Pa’s book, which never once mentions Ma’s role in the Creation.

“I mean, you cannot have a father without a mother,” explained Glaser. “She figured she’d take a little nap; she said, ‘Watch the kids’ to the father and then she wakes up to find that its crisis time.”

Miguel, “a minority Everyman,” is unwittingly chosen to channel Ma’s message, which ranges from stereotypical Jewish motherly concerns (“Oy, you look so thin!”) to the graver earthly concerns of Mother Nature (“You’re my children and you’re killing me!”). The idea, said Glaser, is to present a lighthearted comedy interspersed with serious matters.

But the challenge of finding just the right balance between comedy and drama contributes to what Glaser called the play’s “unfinished” state.

“I want it to be palatable and funny and not just a lecture on global issues,” said Glaser, who has performed the show continually since its 1995 conception, despite the claim that it’s not finished. “I don’t think there’s an issue I don’t cover — I deal with everything!”

Dealing with “everything” is much more attainable, she added, when the “great Jewish mother” is on hand.

“I don’t know any other character like the Jewish mother. People, even if they aren’t Jewish, are very moved by her,” she said.

“And Ma is such a divine character. She’s so filled with love and caring,” she added.

“Of course she’s full of guilt trips and nags, too.”

Like the typical Jewish mother, Ma seems to believe that everything can be solved through a well-cooked, nutritious meal. In this new version of “Oh My Goddess” Ma actually breaks out the oven mitts and “cooks a delicious dinner of organic food that she feeds to the people in the theater.”

Taking on the character of Ma is a snap for Glaser who, as a mother of two — Dana, 13, and Lucy, 5 — professes that she can often be heard nagging, “What is that you’re eating? It’s full of sugar!” and “Eat your vegetables!”

Transforming into a Latino man is a bit more complex. But Glaser said she draws from her Sephardi Jewish background and memories of Spanish-speaking Passover seders for inspiration.

“The costume really helps,” she added.

Glaser was born in the Bronx and raised in Queens and Long Island. After moving to San Diego for college, she participated in several improvisational troupes, honing her onstage skills.

Glaser first rose to national prominence in her one-woman, award winning show “Family Secrets,” which had a long run off-Broadway. That play as well as the original version of “Oh My Goddess,” was co-written by her husband and partner Greg Howells.

It was Howells who convinced Glaser to try performing one-woman shows, which they co-wrote and he directed.

Since Howells’ highly publicized, mysterious and unsolved disappearance from a Carmel Valley golf course in 1997, Glaser has been writing and raising the kids on her own. The responsibility, she said, is difficult at times but hasn’t hindered her from working on two screenplays and a book. She also hopes to eventually write a musical.

“But first,” she noted, in a manner that would undoubtedly make Ma proud, “I’ve got to go cook breakfast for my kids.”

Aleza Goldsmith

Aleza Goldsmith was a Jewish Bulletin staff writer.