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2005-08-22 Play Review: Rabbi and Cheerleader

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Cynthia Citron


Give me an 'R'; Give me an 'A'...

For The Rabbi and the Cheerleader
,  August 22, 2005

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By Cynthia Citron

Perky" is hardly the word that comes to mind to describe a rabbi's wife.  But Sandy Wolshin is hardly the wife that comes to mind for an Orthodox Jewish rabbi.  She is willowy, with long blond hair that she continually flips to punctuate the twists and turns of her life story, she is hilarious and upbeat, she is graceful, and she carries two shiny silver pom poms.  "Perky" is definitely the word.

Sandy Wolshin calls her story The Rabbi and the Cheerleader, and she prances her way through it in a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre in West L.A.  She begins, as all life stories begin, with her mother and father, two drama queens who were larger than life.  Her father,  a Borscht Belt performer, was a Jewish atheist.  "He knew he was one of the Chosen People, he just didn't know by Whom," she explains.  Her mother, a Russian Orthodox gypsy flamenco dancer taught her to play the castanets.  "Theirs was like a marriage between Carmen Miranda and Jackie Mason," she says.

Wolshin brings them both vividly to life, along with her grandmothers, whom she evokes by changing her headscarf and her accent.  And as for the religious dichotomy in the household, she notes that her gypsy grandmother liked to point out that, since Sandy was only half-Jewish, that made her only "half a Christ-killer."

Diagnosed at an early age with a hole in her heart, Wolshin lived with the trauma of knowing that she would never be able to compete in the Olympics—even though that had never been a desire or a goal.  What she did desire was to be a cheerleader.  And she became one, for the National Football League's Los Angeles Raiders.  As one of 48 Raiderettes, she traveled with the team for five years, making an impressive salary of $35 a game.  She demonstrates her cheerleader routines, twirling prettily and performing a cartwheel.  And she sings, encouraging the audience to sing along and clap.

She also matriculated at Santa Monica College, which she liked so much that she spent 10 years there, collecting a variety of degrees.  And finally, after having "an epiphany at the Pep Boys," she began to study Judaism.  Which she did with such eagerness that she became the bane of everyone else's existence.  (You know about the curse of the newly converted and their zealous devotion  to proselytizing everyone within earshot).  This part of her odyssey is both touching and hilarious, as she describes her conversion to Orthodoxy, her dates with inappropriate bachelors arranged by a matchmaker,  and her first encounter with her husband-to-be, an Orthodox rabbi who approaches her table at a kosher restaurant and begins to ply her with questions to determine her suitability for marriage.  Talk about "meeting cute"!

It's an interesting life, and Sandy Wolshin presents it well.  She is loosely directed by Heidi Crane and not much helped by Victoria Profitt's  sparse living room set, which has nothing to do with the story and is never explained.  But Val Poliuto's sound and big screen projections are a welcome addition.

Sandy Wolshin, Orthodox cheerleader, had the audience in the palm of her hand throughout as she distributed Sabbath candles and brought her remarkable story to a close with a final exuberant twirl.

The Rabbi and the Cheerleader will be presented  Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays through September 25th at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. in West Los Angeles.

 Be aware that the Saturday night performances begin at 9 o'clock---after the conclusion of the Sabbath.

Editor's Note: Cynthia Citron's review will be aired on The Ira Fistell Show, KABC 790 AM, on Aug. 27th