“In my family we would scream and yell at each other and then we would have dessert.”
In Sherry Glaser’s family, there was a lot to scream about — a mother who was manic-depressive and schizophrenic and proud of it, a grandmother who was also mentally deranged (“Am I crazy?” she would ask.Â “What’s crazy?”) and a father who couldn’t deal with the fact that his daughter was a lesbian.
“After the screaming and yelling, though, there was acceptance and forgiveness,” Glaser says.Â “That’s what makes a family.”
It’s also, apparently, what made her career.Â Glaser, probably in self-defense, parlayed her family’s idiosyncrasies into one of the most successful solo shows in LA history,Â Family Secrets.Â It opened at the Heliotrope Theatre (now Sacred Fools) in 1990 and ran for months, in two runs separated by a San Diego engagement. Glaser (who then spelled her first name Sheri) won an LADCC award. In 1993-94 Family Secrets ran for 15 months Off-Broadway. Then it returned to LA in 1995 for a month at the 863-seat Henry Fonda Theatre [now the Music Box], yielding Glaser an Ovation nomination.
Now Glaser is premiering a brand new show, The Second Coming:Â A One Woman Comedy of Biblical Proportions at Two Roads Theatre in Studio City. In The Second Coming Glaser takes on an even more singular family: God the Father, and his wife, Mother Earth.Â “It’s strange that modern religions have done away with the concept of family,” she says.Â “We pray to Him, but you can’t have a father without a mother.Â It’s time for the women to be acknowledged.
“My purpose with this show is to restore the feminine: the nurturing, creative aspect—a little breast milk, if you will.”
Once again, Glaser’s mother may have influenced her outlook.
“Whenever my mother was going through one of her crazy periods, she thought she was Mary, Jesus’ mother, and I was Sarah.Â She completely reverted to Biblical times.”
In The Second Coming Mother Earth awakens from a 5,000-year nap to find that her “children” have buried the planet in toxic waste, environmental chaos, false prophecies, lies, misguided loyalties, war, greed, and intolerance.Â And it’s up to Her to fix it.Â Which Glaser does with clarity, insight, and humor.
Whenever her mother wasn’t crazy, she was “my best friend,” Glaser says.Â “She taught me everything I know.Â And even though she had a very difficult life, she never complained.Â But the lithium she was prescribed destroyed her kidneys and she had to go on dialysis.Â Then, after 25 rounds of shock treatments, she finally refused any further treatments and began to “˜practice dying.’
“She died two years ago, after throwing herself a big going-away party.Â We learned later that the last thing she did before she died was to write a check for $10 to Doctors Without Borders.”
Glaser, who was born in the Bronx and raised on Long Island, was bulimic as a teenager and was date-raped at 16.Â (“At our 20th high school reunion, he apologized,” she says.)Â In 1978 she moved to San Diego to attend San Diego State University.
Fortunately, she managed to divert whatever “crazy” genes she might have inherited from her mother and grandmother by focusing on improv and teaming up with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Mo Gaffney, and Kathy Najimy.Â At one point Najimy opened a restaurant, the B Street Café, in San Diego (Najimy’s home town), and Glaser and Goldberg worked there—Glaser as a waitress and Goldberg as dishwasher.
Then Goldberg went off to San Francisco to see if she could make it there as a stand-up comic, and Glaser rented her house.Â “We agreed that she could have the house back if San Francisco didn’t work out,” Glaser says, “but I knew she was never coming back.”Â Glaser lived in the house for the next seven years.
During that time she met Greg Howells, a writer who helped her put her first one-woman show, Coping, together.Â They were married at the La Jolla Bridge and Shuffleboard Club and subsequently had two daughters, Dana and Lucy.Â Â “Heterosexuality was a phase,” she says now, as if it were some kind of aberration,Â “but we were best friends and were very happy together.”
Howells, who wanted to be “a serious writer,” wrote a play called Lazarus, which he couldn’t get anyone to produce.Â The rejections depressed him, and his drinking and gambling became excessive.Â Then, on June 18, 1997, he went off to a local golf course to play twilight round.Â In the summertime, when the days were longest, he enjoyed playing in the early evening until it got dark.Â But that evening he didn’t return home.
The next day his car was still at the golf course, his play script and wallet left on the front seat, and his golf cart and clubs were found abandoned at the 13th hole.Â He left no trace of what had happened to him, and he hasn’t been seen or heard from since then.
Now, nearly 15 years later, Glaser says she “is still in shock.” She still hopes to hear from him, or to discover the answers to this unsolved mystery, even though she concedes that he is probably dead.Â “The story isn’t finished yet,” she says, but “it’s one of the best stories ever,” and she expects that one day she’ll write it into one of her one-woman shows.
Meanwhile, she has married again, to Sheba Love, a woman she met at a weekend retreat.Â This Goddess Group gathered to “recognize and embody the goddess,” to tell and listen to stories “from women’s spiritual past,” and to assist each other in discovering “where their own stories are.”Â When the retreat was over, she and Love adapted the experience for audio theater and produced a CD that Glaser directed and Love narrated.
Glaser’s political and feminist activism has been demonstrated in her stage works, Oh My Goddess!, Remember This: An Intimate Portrait of War Through the Eyes of Women, and The Breast of Sherry Glaser. She is also a founding member of the peace activist group Breasts Not Bombs, and she and Love were arrested for protesting topless against the policies of then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.Â “We were protesting the way he was messing with the unions, and teachers and nurses and firefighters,” Glaser explains.Â “And also about the charges against him for groping and molesting women’s bodies.”
Once they were arrested, they sued for violation of their civil rights.Â The court agreed that their freedom of speech had been violated. And the two women won the case and were awarded a large settlement.Â But more important, the suit established legal protection for women to demonstrate topless in California without being arrested.Â “Breasts are not indecent, wars are,” Glaser says.
Her activism has taken her to San Quentin, where she performed her show Oh My Goddess! It was received so well by the inmates that she was invited to return.Â She did, introducing them to improvisation to “wake up their creativity.”Â As an exercise, she had them become their mothers and improvise what they would say to their sons.Â “So here were these big bad-ass convicts talking as mothers to themselves, and weeping”¦” she says.Â “It was very moving.”
In addition, she leads a workshop in radical emotional transformation, which teaches women to embrace and embody their emotions.Â “You need to stop the story you’re telling yourself, and become the emotion. You need to feel emotions—that’s what they’re for.Â You need to feel them throughout your body.
“It’s okay to be scared, but sorrow, fear, and rage produce chemical changes in the body.Â If you don’t deal with them, they will find a place in your body and solidify.Â But if you do, and then relax, eventually you will laugh until the tears come, and then you’ll know you’re done.Â Because in the end, there is always joy.”
The Second Coming: A One-Woman Comedy of Biblical Proportions. Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Blvd., Studio City. Plays Fri.-Sat. 8 pm; Sun. at 2 pm. Through December 18. Tickets: $25.Â Â 619-840-9701. www.tworoadstheater.com.
***All The Second Coming: A One-Woman Comedy of Biblical Proportions production photos by Lucy Belle Love