Rachel Shukert has mined her own life in two humorous memoirs -- Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great -- but her targets aren't just personal. Her Broadway spoofs have a decidedly biblical thrust: Everything's Coming Up Moses for Passover and Eight Days More for Hanukkah.
Now, the author, actor and playwright is back with a cabaret show for Purim -- Don't Cry for Me, Ahasuerus -- March 7 at the 92YTribeca in Lower Manhattan.
The line-up promises to pack punch.
It stars Jackie Hoffman, a popular performer and sassy humorist in her own right, as Queen Esther, and the entertaining Seth Rudetsky as Haman, the evil vizier hoping to destroy her people. Rachel Shukert considers why Jewish history is ripe for send-ups and the perfect audience for satire.
Parody can be powerful. What aspects of the Purim story are you zinging?
What works so nicely about these particular parodies is that I can parody the holiday through the musical, and the musical through the holiday. It's double-duty satire. This one, in particular, wound up being influenced by current events, just due to what I was absorbing at the time.
Since the Purim story takes place in ancient Persia, there wound up being a lot of stuff about the impending conflict between Iran and Israel. "That's where they enrich the uranium" kind of jokes and about the internecine conflict in the Middle East in general.
And there are some aspects of the Purim tradition itself: The idea of disguising yourself, which is where the costumes come from. I put in some pretty ridiculous things, like how Mordecai, Esther's cousin, is always disguised as Bronson Pinchot, because he played the "cousin" in Perfect Strangers.
I had a lot of fun with one of the traditions of hearing the Megillah, the Book of Esther, read out loud in synagogue, and how you shout when Haman is mentioned to blot out his name. It's sort of like a Pee-wee's Playhouse scream when you hear the secret word thing. I've always wondered if that's where he got it from.
Who is your target audience for Ahasuerus?
Jews. And gay people. And gay Jews and Jewish gay people. And people who like musicals. And comedy. And Perfect Strangers fans. Really, it's for everyone, but it probably helps if you fall into at least one of those categories. Oh, and my parents. These seem to make my parents so happy.
Why does Jewish history make for such fertile Broadway-infused spoofs?
The narrative structure of the Jewish holidays and the narrative structure of the classic Broadway musical are the same. They both almost always feature a larger-that-life character up against insurmountable odds.
Did you cast Jackie Hoffman and Seth Rudetsky?
Seth has been in all the shows I've done like this; he is my muse, funny and fabulous. Our director, Michael Schiralli, who has also directed all of them, calls us The Tablet Players.
I like using the same people over and over again. It really has become almost like a little company. As for Jackie, I've been a huge fan for ages and never wanted anyone else to be Queen Esther. I had to wait for Broadway's The Addams Family to close to write it, so she might have time to do it. It's my dream cast -- except for me. But I'll do.
March 7, 92YTribeca, 200 Hudson St., NYC, 7:30 p.m. www.92YTribeca.org