And then there's intentional effort to eschew caricature or archetype: Feiffer's Grown Ups
Last Edit: Delvino 07:48 am EDT 10/07/21
Posted by: Delvino 07:41 am EDT 10/07/21
In reply to: Kay Medford (re: What?....) - Marlo*Manners 03:32 pm EDT 10/06/21

Jules Feiffer was adamant that the complex mother in his (wonderful) play Grown Ups be cast and played 180 from the popular cultural archetype. He discusses it in detail in the printed text*. On Broadway, Frances Sternhagen basically started from scratch, subtly building a woman who tossed in Yiddishisms with quotations marks around them, who self-presented in such a way that any of the cliches were handled performatively. She was absolutely unlike any "Jewish Mother" that we had seen. And the woman's power was in her absolute avoidance of overt displays of matriarchal control; and we never see any (cliched) aggression, at least until quite late in the third act. It was a brilliant, boldly original performance that incrementally made a case for a particular New York woman whose issues were not tethered to an ethnic identity. Feiffer wanted us to see this woman without the baggage *we* might bring. Without pre-judging her, certainly the way entertainment so often characterizes the larger-than-life Jewish women of Manhattan. In the very good Showtime iteration, the role fell to Jean Stapleton, a bizarre choice to many. The performance isn't entirely successful, but she nailed what Feiffer wanted, and carved out an entirely original woman.

*UPDATE: Not wanting to misrepresent the playwright's wishes in a paraphrase, I pulled down my French script. Feiffer's words;

"The strongest of them, Helen, cannot be played as a stereotypical stage or TV Jewish mother, or the play sinks like a stone. She dereives from another, less familiar tradition. Her style is cheerful; she has cultivated a genteel, educated, ladylike manner. Her forays into Yiddishisms, while used fondly, have a touch of condescension. Her flirtatiousness and playfulness are conscious choices, done for effect. Her power is innate, rarely calling for naked display. She is the motor of act one."

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