note: entire contents copyright 1996 by Beverly Creasey
by Beverley Creasey
Remember the old days when "master of disguise" was high praise indeed for an actor? Somehow the art of "disguise" has gone out of fashion in the theater. It'a in vogue in television, but TV is easy: someone like Tracy Ullman gets to stop between characters, and takes hours to perfect the makeup.
A dynamo named Donna Blue Lachman is at Brandeis this week portraying five different personae -- without elaborate makeup -in Sherry Glaser & Greg Howells' sweetly comic one-woman show "Family Secrets". Lachman (who lives up to her name, which is Yiddish for "laughing person") gives a tour de force performance as an entire family: an overwhelmed Jewish patriarch (she's hilarious as the slightly schlubby, middle-aged accountant), his nutty wife, their two daughters, and his recently remarried mother.
The secrets of the title are pretty tepid, not the lurid variety you see on Sally Jessie Raphael. The raciest Glaser & Howells get is to have the eldest daughter experiment with a lesbian relationship. Before you can say "Her father will have a knish" she's found a nice man and they're having a baby. (He's not Jewish, but Papa can live with that.)
Glaser & Howells go for the laugh even when they tiptoe into serious territory, like bulimia and mental illness. Each vignette (deftly directed by playwright Howells) features a different family member, gossiping about the others and letting us in on their mishegas. Pity the poor mother. She has a nervous breakdown (she thinks she's the Virgin Mary yet) and the crazy doctors prescribe compazine ---something you take for nausea, not psychosis. And the daughter who's pregnant doesn't get any meds! The delivery segment is the piece de resistance, with Lachman becoming three characters: her very pregnant self, and two other characters who walk her about to "process" her through the pain.
Lachman changes only costumes (by Brigid Ann Brown) and wigs right in front of us, which is a treat, but the real transformations happening before our astonished eyes are internal. Her voice hums out of one persona into the next while she's changing her outward appearance. She even manages to extend her belly (for the delivery vignette) by dint of will power alone. The material itself isn't that deep but the magic is there ... it's in the disguise.