September 20, 2018

David Zasloff meets Goliath of Doubt in Solo Show

With his sense of humor for a shield and armed only with musical instruments — drums, shofar, autoharp and wooden Japanese flute — David Zasloff is prepared to do battle with self-doubt.

As he takes the stage for his one-man show, “David Zasloff: A Musical Comedy,” he will parry the eternal question “Am I good enough?” and hope to emerge victorious.

For the show, which he will perform at Beyond Baroque theater on April 22 and 29, “there’s an underlying theme, a huge battle going on, a psychic battle to the hilt,” Zasloff, known for his ability to play a shofar like a musical instrument, and his keen humorous observations, told the Journal.

For those who have not heard Zasloff perform in person, or seen one of his YouTube videos, you need to imagine a tall, mature man, standing with a full curvy Yemenite shofar raised to his lips, but instead of hearing the sharp tekiah blasts that we have grown accustomed to in shul, you hear “Flight of the Bumblebee,” “Hatikvah,” Cuban jazz or some flight of fancy he has composed.

Describing his theatrical performance as a “musical monologue memoir,” Zasloff intends to take the audience on a life journey through the Alaskan wilderness, into outer space, and deep into the dark forest of divorce and negative thinking. Also on the trip are planned stops at key points of his spiritual quest of reclaiming his Judaism.

“Part of the show revolves around my initially not wanting to be Jewish, and the transition I went through to become Jewish,” said Zasloff, who if asked about his Jewish roots when he lived in Seattle would tell people in a Bronx-accented voice that he was an American Indian.

Singing through his struggles with self-identification, Zasloff will present “If There Weren’t Any Jews,” a song he composed that playfully recognizes Jewish contributions. Displaying his intention to connect with other musical Jews, Zasloff will play Christmas songs written by Jewish songwriters, including “The Christmas Song” and “White Christmas.”

With an ear for “blues for Jews,” he also will perform a piece he composed for shofar called “Jumpin in Jerusalem,” as well as several jazz compositions.

The songs are “extensions of the storytelling,” said Eve Brandstein, the director of the show. She and Zasloff have known each other for more than 25 years, with Zasloff having been the musical director on a show that Brandstein performed. “He has been an adventurer in life. He took many chances. The show that we’re putting together really tells the story of that journey,” Brandstein said.

Zasloff was born in the Bronx and left when he was 17, hitchhiking to the Alaskan wilderness, where he lived until his mid-20s. To get by, he lived off the land, shooting chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits — an experience about which he will be performing a jazz song, he said. Later, living in Seattle, he learned to play drums and piano, playing in a band in a Pentecostal church. He also discovered, while working in a deli called Matzoh Momma’s, that he could play the shofar.

Living in L.A. since 1986, he has played the shofar, ritually, in temple, and not-so-ritually yearly in a Palm Sunday parade for St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Los Angeles.

“They really wanted someone who was Jewish,” he said.

Zasloff has found cultural experiences in so many worlds that he’s lived in, and through them, Brandstein said, he is able to essentially tell the Jewish story.

“This is going to be my third show with this flavor,” said Brandstein, who directed Monica Piper in “Not That Jewish,” now being performed off-Broadway, and Rain Pryor in “Fried Chicken and Latkes,” now at The Braid in Santa Monica. “He has a Zen Judaic sensibility,” she added, and “has accomplished a certain sense of awareness to experience and presence and has a very Jewish soul.”

That life experience has also allowed Zasloff to relate to a wide audience, from Lubavitch Chasids, for whom he has performed his shofar repertoire, to men in prison, for whom he has done stand-up. That Zasloff is a recovering addict, now 16 years in recovery, helps him through humor that is underlying his current show: “getting over not feeling good enough.”

In the past, “my whole career was inhibited by negativity, telling me I couldn’t do it, while my creative spirit is telling me I can,” Zasloff said. “I never knew I had  negative thinking until I had a positive thought.”

“I’ve been to meetings around the world, and it’s always about not feeling good enough, and that’s where the recovery is. It’s not about the drugs, or the alcohol — those are just the things people use to obliterate not feeling good enough.”

Zasloff, who married in 2006 and now is a father, “has learned how to be loved,” he said, and now accepts his talents. He also feels quite Jewish.

“I think in minor keys,” he said.

“He’s come to much more of a beautiful, revealed life at this point, and he shows that in the show,” said Brandstein, and “that’s what attracted me to work with him. He has a lot more joy than when he started this journey. He’s a sweeter man.”

For ticket information and more, visit pw.org.