Splashy ‘Wedding’ delivers delightful message of acceptance

Photo: Eric Woolsey

By Gerry Kowarsky, Special to the Jewish Light

“Write about what you know.” 

David Hein and Irene Sankoff were following that familiar advice when they created “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding.” 

This improbably titled musical is based on the true story of Hein and his mother. The clever, timely show brings the current season to a delightful close at the New Jewish Theatre.

The action begins in 1990, when 37-year-old Claire Gillman flies away from Lincoln, Nebraska, to a job teaching psychology at the University of Ottawa. She leaves behind a failed marriage and a son named David in the eighth grade. He joins her in Canada after finishing the school year, but not before major changes have occurred in her life.

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Looking for new things to do, Claire starts singing in a group that turns out to be a lesbian choir. At the end of a rehearsal, Claire accepts an offer for a tour of the local sights from Jane, a member of the choir. The evening concludes with a kiss.

This whirlwind courtship is believable in the theater thanks to the excellent work by Laura Ackermann as Claire and Deborah Sharn as Jane.

Ackermann lets the audience see what is going on in Claire’s mind as she begins to recognize and accept what is happening to her. Sharn radiates life-affirming energy as Jane, the Wiccan half of the couple who quickly dispels myths about Wiccan beliefs.

For Jane, being Wiccan means believing in herself and being herself. She wants Claire to do the same. With Jane’s encouragement, Claire reconnects with her Jewish background. When it finally happens, the lesbian Jewish Wiccan wedding makes perfect sense for this couple.

Ben Nordstrom is ideal as David, who first appears as the narrator. Nordstrom immediately charms the audience with his easy manner and impish sense of humor. His relaxed stage presence lets him move effortlessly between narrating and taking part in the action after David has reached adulthood.

David’s younger self is portrayed in a spirited, fully convincing performance by Pierce Hastings. He is equally persuasive in a number of small parts, as are the supremely versatile Anna Skidis and Chase Thomaston.

Jennifer Theby-Quinn sparkles as Irene, who becomes David’s wife. Theby-Quinn is hilarious in a musical number in which Irene is overwhelmed by the assistance of five mother figures in the first of the show’s two weddings.

John Flack captures the astonishment of Claire’s ex-husband as he comes to grips with the implications of her new relationship. Another memorable scene features a racy number in a Hooters restaurant.

The splashy scenic design by Margery and Peter Spack is a flexible setting for the action under Edward Coffield’s direction. The production is also enhanced by Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes, James Kolditz’s lighting, Jenny Smith’s properties, Amanda Werre’s sound, Charlie Mueller’s musical direction and Liam Johnson’s choreography.

The show’s message of acceptance could not emerge with more force or clarity than it does from this New Jewish Theatre production.