A few weeks ago I saw Anna Fishbeyn’s wonderful one-woman show—yes, that’s the title, Sex in Mommyville. Anna immigrated to the States from Russia at age eleven—this is more than just background; it informs the show in the best possible ways, giving her an insider-outsider perspective, and filling the piece with engaging specifics. Anna does a fantastic job pulling together all of the competing demands on a mother’s time…work, kids!, baby crying, family-at-large, messy house, personal fulfillment?!, a clean household?, husband…just to name a few—with humor, insight, and a probing feminist spin that reminds you why you care about gender issues (why they matter) without beating anyone over the head, more like a feather tickle to the ribs, and a nice drink.
My husband loved the performance too. It’s so much more fun to see someone else’s trials played out as entertainment—knowing they’re also yours—than to just drone through your own. Another waking child! Another too-short night! Work thoughts and work deadlines! Whence the adult time?! When do you just burrow into the pillow hoping for sleep? Anna’s show makes exhaustion and interrupted adult time fun, and, not surprisingly, her heightened portrayal of practically-live-in Russian parents helping, interfering, helping, interfering is wonderfully rendered. We know what a sucker I am for anything Russian—but even if you’re not, it’s fun to see one’s own crazy, hectic life twisted around just a bit—freshened up, as it were, and given a social commentary to boot—and made into a riveting performance.
Anna’s website (sexinmommyville.com) shares the beginning of her novel (The Matrimonial Flirtations of Emma Kaulfield—hopefully coming soon…) drawing the compelling and hilarious, trials of casual adultery in 1970s Russia from a sharp-eyed child’s perspective. As a once-child who spent some time in the midst of the American variety, I’d say Russia sounds like more fun. This is part of what I love of Russian-ness, this sharp, semi-tragic, yet bemused look at reality—bemused, but not irony-laden. One can have feeling and still appreciate the absurdity of a situation. There is something particularly Eastern European about this…. Certainly it has to do with the double-life necessitated by such intensive state control of individual decisions, thoughts, possibilities…and yet some part of it predates Stalin, predates communism.
Ritual comes to mind, the importance of ritual, the significance given to it…like a cup of soup, a dish that sometimes feels fetishized in my part-Polish household. I’ve come to accept this, and, still, sometimes I am completely mystified by it. Why is a meal not complete without soup? It fills you up too soon, it keeps the children—who seldom do more than touch it, quite literally—from the part of the meal that will satisfy them, will keep them relatively calm and focused for the next five to twenty minutes…. But, yes, soup, soup! Anna plays with this too in her show; her grandmother’s soup, the precious elixir for children that requires a mother’s full day at the stove to prepare it. Me, I’ll take a stew (or the weekly pot of cheesy pasta that keeps my two-year-old nourished)—throw it all in, only one pot to clean, only one dish per eater. I am constantly imagining the day with no dishes, the dinner with no dishes. Rather like imagining an uninterrupted and full night’s sleep, or sex without wondering what child will emerge, and when.
And here I thought I would end, but that soup, that soup, it’s sticking in my mind. The mythical bowl of warm nourishment that begins the meal. I think it must remind my father-in-law of childhood. My own too-brief time with his mother, my husband’s babcia, calls to mind bowls of soup, the steadfastness with which she carried those bowls (in Warsaw) from kitchen to dining room, her hand shaking, and yet never losing its cargo. This is how a meal begins: slowly, with thought, the stomach warming to its coming treats, the mind, the table’s guests, warming to each other, opening up to the discussions that will follow. In fact, this is what I try to find when we light candles for Shabbat, that moment of calm, the welcoming of our time at the table. And, amazingly, the boys always seem just a little more mellow, a little more discursive, on those evenings. We each find, or remember, the rituals that help us keep what we need.