Review: Erotic Jewish Story Improv
Here’s my review of Howard Lieberman’s one-man improv show, Erotic Jewish Story Improv. I attended this show because of course I love to have fun with religion, and I also like combining sex and religion. So I wanted to see what this show had to offer. I attended with a friend who said he’d not liked Howard’s show last year, but last year it had been with another man and entirely different. My friend said he ended up pleasantly surprised, and I too enjoyed the show.
Howard took his suggestions from fortune cookies, which came in a box that we passed around like a game of musical chairs. Whomsoever upon the box of cookies landed when the music stopped would have to open a cookie and read the fortune as the suggestion. As the show was improvised and will never occur this way again, I will give you an idea of the stories, because they were so good I want to share their energy a bit.
Howard’s stories were really quite touching. He improvised a story about his character’s loss of virginity with a black woman in college. In their Wisconsin town, back in the sixties, it was unheard of that there might be an interracial, interreligious relationship. All the white students ignored them, so Howard was the only white person at his table in the cafeteria. He said he hadn’t meant it that way, but that he had simply formed a completely organic attraction to the woman, as anyone would do… humans are simply led along by their hormones into situations like this. He spoke of young love as we have all experienced it- the timidity of initializing contact, the awesomeness and amateurity of that first sexual experience, and so on. And then, one day, he was no longer welcome at his usual table, and no one would look at him. Finally the woman he loved deigned to speak to him- she told him they wanted nothing to do with him, because that day, “your people killed Dr. King.” Sounds a lot like “your people killed our King and Saviour”, or any other such useless excuse for division among humanity. An idea as old as humanity and affecting all ultimately arbitrary categories of persons.
Howard says he uses humor in his stories, which are dark, because humor saves one from the darkness. Humor is the way that the Jewish race has survived, he says. I like dark comedy. I like dark improvisation. It’s more real that way. It means more.
Howard told a story of growing up with a close friend, the kind of close friend with whom one so identifies that one begins to do what they do. He said that this friend taught him how to speak and move and listen to certain kinds of music. His friend confessed that he’d been sleeping with a male nurse, and that he didn’t want to be that way, but that he couldn’t stop because it felt so right, and he asked his friends to please not stop being friends with him. Howard didn’t know why he wouldn’t be friends with him. Then one day his (closeted) father forbid him to see this friend anymore, because this friend was a “faygele”. Howard learned what that meant, and learned that people thought it was wrong, and learned to exercise a prejudice he didn’t even really have. I think lots of people are pushed into doing that through peer pressure or thanks to the useless, warped, and outdated morality of their family. He never talked with that friend again, until one day he heard over Facebook that this friend wanted to give him a call. He said that was okay. The friend never called.
Howard told a story of being a rich German boy who was suddenly taken to Auschwitz. He told of the various horrors one would see and hear about. He told of driving his body to the brink of exhaustion doing the work of an “animal”, as the Nazi soldiers called him. He went to his barrack to sleep on his plank that night completely sore. But he was still a human boy. Because he was human, he reached out to do something human- to make himself feel good, there in Auschwitz on his plank. He thought of רחל (Rachel; ewe; one with purity) as he touched himself, and he said it was as though Raḥel was truly there with him, though he was alone. And thus he felt the presence of God, and this, I think, was the most touching part of the show. Even, and often especially, when we are alone, God is there. We are humans experiencing divinity.
Howard also told a story about his Bar Mitzvah. He told of how his turn came to recite the Torah. He stood there in front of everyone to recite, and then he looked at his date. At this point in the story, Howard looked at me, for I was the only female in the audience. He said that he’d never seen this girl wearing anything quite so interesting- lace all around a low-cut neckline, which seemed very mysterious and intriguing to him at thirteen years of age. And so he became very distracted from his recital, and he also became aroused. So he was pitching a tent right there next to the Holy of Holies. I thought this was very funny. And it just goes to show you that sex and religion just cannot be separated even if you do have a Holy of Holies right there next to you. He had finally looked away from me, too, at some man, which was good for comedic effect, and later he told me it was because he said he felt inappropriate! Many think I am underage, but I told him that I’m not and not to worry- it’s kind of hard to be inappropriate with me, of all people. I seem innocent on the outside, but anyone who knows me knows quite the opposite. I know full well we are sexual beings and I would rather have fun with that than feel shame over it- shame is a useless emotion that helped to cast us out of Eden anyway. Just so long as men exercise the law of love, humor is of course welcome.
All in all, I had a fantastic time at this show, and recommend it to anyone who isn’t squeamish about sexual and Judaic themes.