Review: JULIA SWEENEY May Be OLDER AND WIDER but She is Still Shrewdly Funny
Those of us who were loyal Saturday Night Live fans back in the glory days of the variety show will certainly remember the marvelous characters created by Julia Sweeney during her run on the show. This is especially true about "Pat," the androgynous character she created that did not identify as either male or female and generated tons of laughs about it. And of course, this took place in the years long before the term "non-binary" came into existence. I'd like to think Sweeney's very human portrayal of such an unusual character may have even led to the term's creation, and in turn perhaps the #MeToo movement.
Besides her SNL fame, Sweeney is known for her comedic and dramatic (and usually both at the same time) monologues, including God Said Ha! which she staged across the country, as well as on Broadway at the Lyceum Theater. The film version was produced by Quentin Tarantino and premiered at the 1998 South by Southwest Film Festival, and the accompanying comedy album was nominated for a Grammy. Sweeney's second monologue, In the Family Way, played in New York and Los Angeles and was ultimately developed into a memoir, If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother. Her third monologue, Letting Go of God, was adapted into a film that aired on Showtime.
Luckily for us, after a 10-year hiatus raising her adopted daughter Mulan ("Yes, that was her given name in China," she shared with embarrassment) with her Eastern European Jewish husband in suburban Chicago, the Irish Catholic comic recently moved back to Los Angeles to resume her career as a writer and performer. While currently filming a recurring role in the upcoming Hulu series Shrill, opposite Aidy Bryant, she decided it was time to get back on the stage and grab the spotlight again now that her daughter has moved out as a college freshman.
In her new solo show, Julia Sweeney: OLDER & WIDER, she offers hilarious takes on parenting, religion, cancer, feminism and even her iconic SNL characters' place in today's modern landscape. And though she shared this was the first time she performed using a handheld microphone in front of an audience, Sweeney appeared to be totally at ease and enjoying the accolades from her many fans in attendance on opening night.
Most the 90-minute show revolves around tales about the newest character in her life, daughter Mulan, from her childhood as Sweeney learned to navigate the responsibilities of parenthood through the teenager's meeting her first boyfriend. I especially enjoyed all the funny stories she shared once Mulan realized her mother was somewhat "famous" although with the passage of time, it was easy to understand the youngster's confusion as to why certain topics no longer seemed as funny as they did back on SNL or in her (in)famous movies.
Most engaging were the stories about her decision to take a cross country road trip to the Pacific Northwest with her husband, his 90-year old mother, their daughter and her boyfriend. After all, she thought, "what better way to gauge the mood of the country prior to the 2016 election than to speak with those camping out in National Parks along the way." That idea in itself is loaded with comic possibilities, or excuses to tear a family apart. This became exceeding true when the topic of her support of Hilary Clinton for President, which Sweeney assumed was a done-deal prior to the actual election. For you see, it turned out, after the fact, that the boyfriend admitted to voting for Trump but never mentioned in during the MANY conversations about the subject during the pre-election camping trip.
While we all know that the topics of religion and politics should never be discussed at the dinner table among family and friends, Sweeney freely admits to ALWAYS talking about them anytime she can. And if there were those in the audience not on the liberal side with her, you would not tell given the amount of laughter her biting comments received, as well as the quiet respect given to her when sharing about being a cancer survivor. It's a universal topic that has touched us all, just as the family experiences she shares will no doubt tickle your funny bone and bring perhaps bring a few nods of remembrance to your heart.
Julia Sweeney: OLDER & WIDER performances take place February 5 - February 17, 2019 in the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at The Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles 90024. Tickets run $30-$60 with several performances already SOLD OUT so order yours quickly at http://www.geffenplayhouse.org/
Photo credit: Timothy M. Schmidt