Ju­lia Sweeney on moth­er­hood and God

She re­turns af­ter a long break with ‘Older & Wider,’ a solo show full to burst­ing with wry self-ob­ser­va­tions.

Los Angeles Times - - THE GRAMMYS - By F. Kath­leen Fo­ley

Ju­lia Sweeney is no stranger to the solo show. “God Said, ‘Ha!’ ” from 1996 re­counted her brother’s strug­gle with ter­mi­nal can­cer as well as her own di­ag­no­sis, just weeks be­fore his death, of a rare cer­vi­cal can­cer. Her 2003 “In the Fam­ily Way” delved into her de­ci­sion as a sin­gle woman to adopt a child from China.

For the last 10 years, Sweeney has been largely out of the pub­lic eye, liv­ing out­side Chicago with her husband and daugh­ter and em­brac­ing (mostly will­ingly but at times re­luc­tantly) the role of house­wife — a sur­real dis­con­nect from her pre­vi­ous life as a bank­able Hollywood name and “Satur­day Night Live” alum.

That sec­ond act in life proves fod­der for “Ju­lia Sweeney: Older & Wider,” a ri­otously funny one-woman show at the Gef­fen Play­house’s Au­drey Skir­ball Ke­nis The­ater, a 125-seat venue per­fectly scaled to Sweeney’s in­ti­mate dis­clo­sures. Clad all in black, speak­ing into a mi­cro­phone (she does a riff or two on wield­ing such a bla­tant phal­lic sym­bol), Sweeney spins comic gold from the or­di­nary. She trans­mutes seem­ingly mun­dane in­ci­dents into some­thing rich and strange.

Part stream-of-con­scious­ness nar­ra­tive, part finely honed stand-up rou­tine, “Older & Wider” is vin­tage Sweeney: as ca­sual and off-the-cuff as a gos­sipy pal at a cof­fee klatch. Yes, some years have passed since we last heard from her, and she has the gray hair to prove it. And per­haps she’s a lit­tle wider (yet an­other sub­ject she ex­ploits to tart comic ef­fect). But what­ever her age and what­ever her di­men­sions, she re­mains a fullthrot­tle charmer with the ob­ser­va­tional skills of Proust.

Never hold­ing back on her un­abashedly lib­eral po­lit­i­cal and anti-re­li­gious views (con­ser­va­tives be fore­warned — this may not be your ticket), Sweeney ex­co­ri­ates the present ad­min­is­tra­tion with gusto. She de­scribes wak­ing up scream­ing af­ter learn­ing that her daugh­ter’s boyfriend voted for Trump — which she de­scribes as an “em­bar­rass­ing un­der-re­ac­tion.”

A de­vout athe­ist, Sweeney nonethe­less signed up for a Bi­ble study class that left her pon­der­ing the var­i­ous ver­sions of the New Tes­ta­ment gospels. In per­haps her most up­roar­i­ous bit, she re-imag­ines the Gospels as pro­gres­sive drafts of a screen­play she has writ­ten, an­noy­ingly tweaked by an over­bear­ing stu­dio ex­ec­u­tive. (A tie-in with Mondavi prompts an­other re­write, pre­sum­ably to in­clude the wed­ding feast at Cana.) When the stu­dio even­tu­ally passes on her project, she learns that the Bi­ble story of Reve­la­tion, writ­ten by two heavy­weight direc­tors who dropped acid to­gether in the desert, has been green­lighted and is “test­ing through the roof.”

Al­ways wry, al­ways off­hand, Sweeney re­mains one of the most tal­ented mo­nolo­gists of her gen­er­a­tion. Yet she some­how man­ages to balance her acer­bity with an es­sen­tial sweet­ness — a re­fresh­ing qual­ity in this era of in­ter­net snark.

“Older & Wider” sold out its orig­i­nal six-day run and then a one-week ex­ten­sion. It’s a crowd-pleaser, in­clud­ing is that hi­lar­i­ous story about her daugh­ter’s Trump-sup­port­ing boyfriend, a quiet youth who flies un­der the fam­ily’s radar for months be­fore com­ing out as a con­spir­acy the­o­rist whose news out­let of choice is In­foWars. (The re­la­tion­ship, need­less to say, doesn’t end well.)

Sweeney con­fides that her daugh­ter ex­pressly told her to in­clude that story in her show, and it is only with her ex­press per­mis­sion that we are privy to it. In other words, Sweeney wouldn’t em­bar­rass a loved one or go for a cheap laugh at the ex­pense of an­other. That’s class. And that’s Ju­lia.

Ti­mothy M. Schmidt

AC­TRESS-mo­nolo­gist Ju­lia Sweeney is at the Gef­fen Play­house with a new set of sto­ries from her life.

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