“A woman of valor, who can find?“ asks the book of Proverbs. BEHOLD HER, created by Arden Kass and Michaela Shuchman, tries to answer that question by presenting a panorama of Jewish womanhood from Lilith, Adam’s “first psychotic Jewish ex-wife,” through a gun-loving member of the IDF who, nevertheless, manages to keep her hair and nails perfectly groomed.
Publicity for the show focuses on the question, “What is beauty?,” but the show itself goes much deeper. Starting out in a Loehmann’s dressing room, which, Fanny Bryce (Marcia Saunders) tells us, was “the crucible of truth,” BEHOLD HER allows a variety of women to tell their stories and argue for their relevance.
(BTW – Loehmann’s, which started in 1921, was known for its Backroom filled with designer fashions and its communal dressing room where total strangers helped each other make sure a bargain really was a good buy.)
Along with humorous vignettes in which the two main actresses take on a variety of roles, the show has moments of depth and feeling. Marcia Saunders portrays the bold, brash Fanny Bryce, the shows unofficial hostess, Bella Abzug with her hat, and Jewish mothers and daughters who worry about weight and the weight of history. Michaela Shuchman magically transforms from Philadelphia educator Rebecca Gratz who wants to be known for her mind not her looks, to a young woman who won’t wear lipstick, to that well-groomed sexy soldier. Charlotte Morris’s voice, guitar and violin bridge the vignettes with popular tunes and Jewish music.
The topic is so rich with material, that as Bryce tells us, it could take days to include them, so selection is critical to making it work. While the show sometimes loses sight of its central theme and includes a few vignettes that could be shortened or cut, the ones that work, like a scene about how lipstick kept a woman alive in the Holocaust, are very powerful.
For anyone who grew up Jewish, even if you’ve never been to a Loehmann’s dressing room, the stories are familiar, for everyone else, they are an enjoyable peek into the eternal questions of makes us beautiful and whether curly hair is really a problem or an asset.
[Dell Theater at the National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 South Independence Mall East] September 7-23, 2018; fringearts.com/event/behold-her