Monica Piper, who has made good as a stand-up comedian and television writer, is so engaging as she spins her solo tale about her life that there is no need to wonder about what is true or what is embellishment just to be funny, which she often is a good part of the time. All through the pleasing 90 minutes, she emits such sincerity that one gladly accepts whatever she is telling us. She also has the gift of being able to turn the corner and stir emotions between the laughs.
Piper talks of her childhood and her father who abandoned show business as a comic to raise a family but had the knack of being funny as well as loving at home. By the age of five she knew the joy of laughter. An excellent mimic, she can tell stories about her dad, mother, grandmother and other relatives, including a hilarious one about a joke her mother liked to tell.
She ranges through her stint as a school teacher and her experiences with men, including marriage to a handsome gentile whom she dumped when an incident made her realize he didn’t really know her. She had a crush on Mickey Mantle after her father took her to a Yankee game. She recounts how later in life she went up to him when he was sitting nearby in an elegant bar and confessed her crush and having kept a scrapbook about him, and how, she says, he then hit on her. It was her chance to sleep with her girlhood idol. I won’t ruin her terrific punch-line.
Piper gets very serious in describing her mother’s ultimate descent into dementia. She also reports on her bout with breast cancer, but even that is fodder for humor. Fearing an early death, she says it would rob her of her hope of growing old and being a burden on someone.
But her greatest venture into being emotional (as well as funny) concerns her decision as a single mom to adopt and raise a son, and the ultimate gratitude of the birth mother for the job she has done when she meets the young man who has emerged from the arrangement. Piper knows how to get to you.
Piper is an excellent actress, and during her years of comedy performing she has developed superb timing, whether in spinning an anecdote, or delivering a punch-line. Director Mark Waldrop has kept the show smooth as she moves about at the right moments. Projection of photos and topics helps give the autobiography authenticity.
The Jewish aspect flows throughout, with Yiddish expressions and Piper’s on again-off again relationships with her religion. It also surfaces in the bringing up of her adopted son from a non-Jewish mother with efforts to raise him Jewish. Of course, there is occasion for comedy in that situation too--hence, the show’s title.
Piper is her show business name. She was named May Lee Davis at birth in the Bronx, which she explains came from her father’s show biz moniker. What she accomplishes in “Not That Jewish” is to offer plenty of laugher while leading us on her path in life up to the present. There are many accomplishments, including winning an Emmy, but when you are seated and listening to her, it all comes down to the intimacy she is able to establish with her audience in this generously entertaining and often moving performance. At New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 15, 2016.