Family Secrets | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Family Secrets, Royal George Theatre Center.

Retired accountant Mort Fisher, the first of five characters Sherry Glaser plays in her hilarious and disturbing one-woman show, always believed in the American dream of assimilation and affluence: this perplexed patriarch gave his family all the happiness and security money could buy. So why is his teenage daughter Sandra a heavy-metal freak with an eating disorder, while her older sister Fern is having a baby by a guy named Miguel?! Natural childbirth yet--with her former lesbian lover as the midwife?!

Glaser reveals through her deftly outrageous impersonations, which veer toward but always stop short of caricature, that trying to be perfect--and failing--is the Fisher "family secret." In her witty, off-the-wall script Fern, Sandra, Mort, his wife Bev, and his mother Rose recount a series of sometimes screamingly funny anecdotes that are always grounded in the characters' painful, unfinished journeys to self-understanding. Neither sentimentalizing nor sneering at her semiautobiographical subjects and using specific cultural and personal pathologies to uncover universal anxieties, Glaser does for Jewish family life what John Leguizamo's Spic-O-Rama did for Latinos.

Brilliant at physical comedy--Fern's epic labor is clowning on a Chaplinesque scale--Glaser is also adept at small, emotionally ambiguous moments; Sandra's account of date rape achieves a stunning dramatic irony through the girl's lack of self-awareness, while Mort's wife Bev recounts her experience of manic depression with an eerily soft-spoken mixture of tension and sedation. Written by Glaser with her director-husband Greg Howells, this off-Broadway hit not only makes its audience laugh till it hurts--it makes its audience laugh because it hurts.

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