This filmed record of Ellen Gould’s one-woman Off-Broadway show, originally broadcast on PBS in 1994, offers a family odyssey of the actress-writer’s immigrant grandmothers and their impact on her life. Through anecdotes, songs and a seemingly endless shaggy dog story about an immigrant girl who loses a gold chain, Gould attempts to channel her grandmothers’ respective wisdom and energy into her contemporary state of affairs.
Alas, Gould’s limitations are painfully evident throughout this monotonous and frequently amateurish production. She unwisely uses cutesy antics to bring her grandmothers to life – one winds up sounding like a distaff Jackie Mason, the other sounds like Barbra Streisand’s Dolly Levi, and both turn into wisecracking old ladies who wave a big shtick at everything and anything around them.
Gould peppers the show with tiresome novelty songs that she performs with endless arm waving, childish marching and the frozen smile of a mindless Stepford Wife. When one of her grandmothers starts warbling a tune on how a good man is like a chocolate covered cherry, you know the inspiration well has run bone dry for her.
While “Bubbe Meises” (Yiddish for “Grandma Stories”) is clearly meant to be a deeply personal tribute to her family, Gould actually winds up trivializing the memories of her grandmothers by turning them into stereotypical caricatures instead of bringing them alive as fully dimensional characters. Oy vey, indeed!