MON | DEC 2
HA HA Hanukkah
If you like to laugh and hear happy Chanukah songs, then this is the show for you. It will be a special night of funny people, including Stephanie Blum, Jimmy Brogan and Mark Schiff. Hosted by Kenny Ellis, who has long made it a mission to marry the cantor and the comic within, there will be nods to his top-rated CD, “Hanukkah Swings!” Make the sixth night of Chanukah the best night. Mon. 8 p.m. $17-$30. The Laugh Factory, 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 656-1336. TUE | DEC 3
“I’LL EAT YOU LAST: A CHAT WITH SUE MENGERS”
Bette Midler stars in the fresh-from-Broadway one-woman show that celebrates Tinseltown’s hottest talent agent. With clients like Barbra Streisand and Marlon Brando, and immigration to the United States from Germany when she was 5, Mengers’ story is a version of the American dream. The Divine Miss M, performing John Logan’s words and directed by Joe Mantello, captivates, entertains and charms. Tue. 8 p.m. Through Dec. 22. $87-$397. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-5454. WED | DEC 4
The leading Israeli journalist and writer makes a rare Los Angeles appearance to discuss his new book, “My Promised Land.” By combining interviews, personal experiences, historical documents, private diaries and letters, Shavit captures all the elements that contribute to the relationship we each individually have with Israel. How does Israel’s past inform her present? What does origin have to do with future? A Q-and-A and book signing follow the program. Reservations recommended. Wed. 8 p.m. Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. FRI | DEC 6
“INTO THE NIGHT: PROGRESSION”
Nothing says early December like multimedia Jewish indie artists. With acts by rock band Avi Buffalo, the Los Angeles debut of Brooklyn-based performance group People Get Ready and a site-specific dance show by Jmy James Kidd and the Sunland Dancers, the evening will be a salute to some of the eager underground artists of our time. Come for the music, come for the movement, and come see the first-ever performance in the Skirball’s new Guerin Pavilion. Fri. 8:30 p.m. $15 (general), $20 (at the door). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. SAT | DEC 7
The old country just got a little newer. Taking traditional sounds and themes and infusing them with some modern funk and interpretations, the Grammy-winning band brings rhythm and timeless spirit to its audiences. With 25 years of experience and a growing fan base with each performance, the Klezmatics have changed the face of the Yiddish imprint on popular culture. They are making history, performing history and you get to dance all the while. Sat. 7:30 p.m. $69-$108. The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 434-3200. SUN | DEC 8
“AMERIKANER SHADKHN” (AMERICAN MATCHMAKER)
Nat Silver is desperate to rid himself of his unlucky-in-love motif as his eighth engagement goes awry. Our urbane and neurotic hero sets up a matchmaking business to learn what it takes to find a match for himself in this 1940 romantic comedy by Edgar Ulmer. Part of Sholem Presents: Yiddish on the Silver Screen series. Other films coming up include “The Light Ahead” (Jan. 26) and “The Dybbuk” (Feb. 9). Sun. 10:15 a.m. $15 (general), $5 (members). Westside Neighborhood School, 5401 Beethoven St., Los Angeles. (818) 760-6625.” target=”_blank”>aju.edu.
THUR | DEC 12
The comedian, actor and writer has a new book of poetry out! “To Laughter With Questions” is a collection of serious and not-so-serious verse, limericks, rhymes and an attempt at iambic pentameter. While you might know him best from his many film and TV appearances, here is an opportunity to get to know the man more intimately. His collection is full of personal experiences, and with Berman having taught in USC’s Master of Professional Writing program, you know it’s well written. Thu. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. MON | DEC 23
WOODY ALLEN AND HIS NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND
Forget the movies — the man is making music. With more than 35 years of bringing New Orleans-inspired music to audiences all over the world, the band has mastered creating the sounds Allen has loved since childhood, including nods to George Lewis, Jimmie Noone and Louis Armstrong. Come because you liked “Manhattan,” and stick around because you’ll love New Orleans. Mon. 8 p.m. $52-$112. Royce Hall at UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101. FRI | DEC 27
“MARVIN HAMLISCH: WHAT HE DID FOR LOVE”
It makes more sense to tell you what Hamlisch was not responsible for when it comes to defining music — but sense is no fun. A musical prodigy at the age of 6, the conductor and composer was the brain behind “A Chorus Line,” and wrote the scores for “Sophie’s Choice,” “Ordinary People” and, more recently, “Behind the Candelabra.” In this first film biography, we get an inside portrait of one of the most respected artists of both the 20th and 21st centuries. Fri. 9 p.m. on PBS. Check local listings. SUN | JAN 12
A SALUTE TO ISRAEL
Join the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Chief Cantor Shai Abramson, the IDF Vocal Ensemble and conductor Ofir Sobol for a community concert featuring classical, opera and Israeli music. Presented by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, this benefit concert features a special guest appearance by IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz. Sun. $29-$180. 6:30 p.m Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 843-2690. FRI | JAN 17
The new year means we are all ripe for self-deprecation, and there is no one better to serve as our shepherd than Rivers. For more than 50 years she has been making us laugh, think, squirm, agree and disagree. Whether you saw her on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson,” spent revealing time with her in the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” or currently watch her during awards season, you know exactly who Joan is and what you have to look forward to. Fri. 9 p.m. $77-$225. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 655-0111. SAT | JAN 18
The principal guest conductor leads one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious orchestras through some Bach, Schoenberg and Brahms. Born in Tel Aviv, Zukerman trained at Juilliard before playing the violin with the London Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. After a successful career in recording, he began conducting in 1970. Since then, he has been a global musical leader, player and teacher. Forget the sounds of silence — bring on Zukerman. Sat. 8 p.m. $40-$65. Valley Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. (818) 677-3000. TUE | JAN 21
“THE BOOK OF MORMON”
It’s a religious satire musical from the guys who brought you “South Park” and “Avenue Q.” That means you’re gonna laugh. Tag along with a couple of Mormon missionaries as they try to spread the word to a remote village in Northern Uganda. It won nine Tony Awards in 2011, including best musical, so if you feel better about going to critically acclaimed things, you can feel good about this. Tue. 8 p.m. Through March 16. $43-$103. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 468-1770. THUR | FEB 13
“LOVE, MATHEMATICS, AND THE X-FILES”
“X-Files” co-creator Chris Carter is in conversation with Edward Frenkel — one of the 21st century’s leading mathematicians. Working on one of the biggest math ideas in 50 years — the Langlands Program — Frenkel, in his autobiography, reveals a side of math filled with all the metaphysical beauty, elegance and spirit of a work of art. Discover how the things you just thought were numbers might carry a charge of love. Thur. 7:15 p.m. Free (reservation required). Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., downtown. (213) 228-7500. SAT | FEB 15
“SANDRA BERNHARD: I LOVE BEING ME, DON’T YOU?”
If you were a respected and talented comedian, singer, author, actor and monologist, you’d love being me, too! From a big break in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” to a recurring role on TV’s “Roseanne,” to off-Broadway successes, Bernhard understands entertaining. She will sing, she will muse about her teenage daughter, and she will love being her. And we love that. Sat. 8 p.m. $25-$60 (general), $15 (UCLA Students). Royce Hall at UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.
Observant life in progress
Barbara Heller likes to refer to herself as a “growing Jew.”
The actress/singer has created a biographical show, “Finding Barb,” that traces her life from her dysfunctional family in Boca Raton, Fla., through her disappointing pursuit of an acting career in New York, to her indoctrination into Orthodox Judaism and, finally, to her present state of trying to balance her commitment to an observant life with her professional ambitions.
The play is running currently at Working Stage in West Hollywood, with performances continuing through Jan. 10.
The seeds of Heller’s quest seem to be rooted in the upheaval of her early home life. While her parents are caricatured in her play, she said the conflict between them was real.
“There was a lot of fighting in the house, not between me and my sister, but between my parents.
“They both had their issues, and they both were really honest about it. Unfortunately, they shared everything with us, like their problems. But, on the other hand, nothing was hidden. I don’t know. I guess I got to see too much.”
Complicating matters, Heller remarked, was the feeling that she never fit any of the “boxes” into which she wanted to fit — she was never part of the “cool” group in elementary school, for example. She said it got better in high school, where she loved the extracurricular acting, singing and dancing activities and appeared in school productions.
Heller recalled that she was 13 when she decided she wanted acting to be her life’s work. She was in New York visiting her aunt, who was a lawyer.
“I looked at all the books in her office, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is so boring.’ And I looked at the cover of Time magazine. Jim Henson had just passed away, and I sat in her law library … and I just sobbed. I said, ‘I feel so much more connected to Jim Henson than to any of these books and being a lawyer.’ I remember that moment. I made a decision. I said, ‘I have to be an actor.’ And that was it.”
Heller attended Tisch School of the Arts at New York University but couldn’t finish because her parents were going through a messy divorce and didn’t have the money for her to continue there. Instead, she graduated from the University of Florida, in Gainesville, with a major in theater and returned to New York to try for acting roles.
Although she did cabaret work, toured in an off-Broadway production, auditioned for numerous Broadway shows and got called back many times, she never actually landed a role on Broadway. She started to think about quitting.
Then she was invited to a Shabbat dinner at the Upper West Side apartment of a friend she had met a few years earlier, when they visited eight concentration camps and Israel under the sponsorship of the World Zionist Organization.
That night, there was a security she had never previously enjoyed, certainly not when she was living with her parents.
“I had no structure growing up,” she said. “So, to have even one dinner a week where everyone was loving and happy and there together, and there was good food on the table and we could have guests over — just the idea of having a wholesome, intimate Shabbat dinner that was loving was precious to me. I’d never had that before.
“I bought a dream that night.”
She also met a couple there who suggested she attend a retreat in Orlando, which was being run by Isralight, an organization dedicated to “Inspiring a Renaissance in Jewish Living” through educational programs.
“I decided that weekend that I should go to Israel and study the Torah in the original text instead of the critical texts I had studied in college,” Heller said. “I stayed there for almost two years [off and on] learning in yeshivot.”
She then steeped herself in Orthodoxy and endured years of match-made dating that is portrayed in her show as hilariously disastrous.
But, for her, the woman’s role in Judaism does have a certain beauty.
“I started to get really curious about what it means to be a Jewish woman,” she said. “What are the laws that I can embrace? I love the idea of niddah; I love the idea of a woman going to mikveh and praying, and being immersed in that water,” she said.
During the period of her extreme Orthodox life, Heller spent some 10 years singing and performing exclusively for female audiences. She explained that it’s a very strict halachah for an observant woman to perform only for other women. But, ultimately, that limitation wasn’t fulfilling, and her current show is a way of reintroducing herself to more mainstream, integrated audiences.
As for dating, Heller said, as an observant woman, she didn’t touch men for six years. Still, she didn’t get married in the time frame that the rabbi said she would find a husband.
“I only dated observant men for nine, 10 years, and then I realized I’m not finding the right person for me. Maybe that’s because I’m not supposed to be fully observant in this very strict way. So, I started dating people who are not as religious, and I’m much happier, because I don’t really fit in the box of an Orthodox Jew.”
At this point in her life, Heller said she considers herself “a growing Jew,” or “limmudnik.”
“Limmud actually means ‘to learn’ or ‘learning,’ and I’m a learning Jew; I’m a growing Jew. I also teach Judaism. That’s part of what I do as a job. I teach Jewish students on the weekends at different synagogues and in their homes,” she said. “I teach Judaism, and I also run a theater camp for Jewish kids where there’s, partially, Jewish learning and theater studies as well.”
Heller concluded that her play is about finding a box that works for her, or taking pieces of different boxes and putting them together in a creative way.
The Working Stage
1516 N. Gardner, Los Angeles 90046 (five blocks east of Fairfax)
Thursdays through Jan. 10, 2013, 8 p.m.
No performance the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve
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