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A CurtainUp Review
Julia Sweeney in The Family Way

by Les Gutman

I never thought my family would be The Sweeney Family.
---Julia Sweeney

Julia Sweeney
Julia Sweeney
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
When she is at her best, and that's most of the time, Julia Sweeney's humor is so gentle and amiable it sneaks up on you. Lacking either the predictability or the setup/punchline cadence that signals when you should laugh, her delivery permits a special resonance when poignancy rather than comedy is her aim. She blends them especially well.

Sweeney's life, it seems, is filled with predicaments. In her last show, God Said, Ha!, our review of which is linked below, the central subject was a serious one: her simultaneous confrontation with cancer as both patient and caregiver, and with her family. Having endured that battle (and then spending the better part of a year watching the Food Channel in a fetal position), her focus shifted to building a family of her own. It's a natural progression, peppered with a series of potential boyfriend/husband/fathers (all named Joe, and numbered sequentially), and ending in her decision to go it alone, for now at least, and begin the next generation solo.

In her late thirties, Sweeney flirted with the idea of having a baby of her own, but decided against it. (She was lacking not only a man in her life, she notes, but a uterus as well.) So she resolved to adopt; i.e., "giving up the love affair with [her own] DNA". This took her on some international travel, as she discovered the difficulties of adopting as an older single parent. Eventually, she figured out that for someone in her situation, "it's all about China".

And so to China she went, and eventually secured a little girl. Now all she needs is a man.

This show appears to be a work-out of new material that Ms. Sweeney would like to take on the road or perhaps to a larger venue in New York. As such, it's an opportunity to see a most enjoyable effort, in a small environment that's quite conducive to its structure. One should not go to see Family Way with an expectation of a significant work of theater (notwithstanding the involvement of Mark Brokaw, who certainly qualifies as a major director of theater). It's more in the nature of an extended stand-up routine. But anyone shying away from it for that reason will be missing something quite special.

God Said, "Ha!"

Julia Sweeney in The Family Way
Written and performed by Julia Sweeney
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Set Design: Allen Moyer
Lighting Design: Mary Louise Geiger
Sound Design: Janet Kalas
Original Music: Lewis Flinn
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes with no intermission
Ars Nova Theater, 511 West 54th Street (10/11 Avs.)
Telephone: (212) 206-1515
WED - FRI @8, SAT @7; $20
Opening January 29, 2003, closing February 22, 2003
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 1/23/03 performance
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