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Chicago premiere of film adaptation tells the story of inventing the perfect Jewish boyfriend
Chicago Jewish playwright/filmmaker James Sherman
Years ago, in acting class, James Sherman met a fellow student actor who worked for an escort agency, where he pretended to be someone’s Jewish boyfriend for an evening with her parents.
A Chicago Jewish playwright and now a screenwriter and director, Sherman never forgot about that silly ruse the actor had told him about. Years later, Sherman wrote a play called “Beau Jest,” a romantic comedy stemming from the escort service plotline coupled with some of his own issues with his parents. “I don’t know if I was actually in therapy or just reading books about how to make peace with my parents,” he said, “but this play, like my others, deals with whatever is going on in my life at the time.”
Sherman, who grew up in Skokie and Lincolnwood and now lives in Chicago, recently adapted “Beau Jest ” into a feature film that will run at the Wilmette Theatre from Thursday, Oct. 1 through Thursday, Oct. 8.
The play and the movie tell the story of a young Chicago Jewish school teacher (played by Robyn Cohen) who is dating a nice guy with one flaw—he isn’t Jewish. Sarah tells her parents she is no longer seeing her boyfriend, appropriately named Chris Cringle, but secretly continues to date him. To keep her mom (played by Lainie Kazan) from setting her up with anymore “nice Jewish boys,” Sarah invents the perfect Jewish boyfriend. After a while, her parents insist on meeting him. So she hires a non-Jewish actor named Bob, from an escort service, to play the role of her Jewish doctor boyfriend at a dinner with her family.
Sarah Goldman (played by Robyn Cohen), Mrs. Goldman (played by Laine Kazan) and Bob, playing the role of the perfect Jewish boyfriend
Both the play and the movie have that “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” effect, according to Sherman, where people of all ethnicities can relate to the premise of trying to impress one’s family with the perfect significant other. “I hear a lot of people say, ‘This is just like my family,’ but they happen to be Korean or Italian or African American,” he said.
Twenty years ago, the play “Beau Jest” debuted at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, where it ran for nearly a year. In a “romantic comedy” of their own, as he puts it, Sherman met his wife, cast as the original Sarah Goldman in the first production of the play. They later had two sons, now ages 18 and 14. The play was produced off-Broadway, running for three years, as well as at regional theaters and in high school and college productions around the country.
Sherman always dreamed of adapting his play into a movie, but had trouble finding producers. For years, he met with Hollywood producers, some of whom were Jewish, who argued that the script was “too Jewish.” Ultimately, he found a Mormon producer in Salt Lake City, Utah, who was a big fan of the play, to produce the movie. Shot in 2006 in Provo, Utah, and in Chicago, the movie hit the Jewish film festival circuit around the country and now comes to town for its Chicago premiere.
“When we designed the original poster, we put a slug line that said it’s a ‘comedy for the whole family,’ and we crossed out ‘for’ and replaced it with ‘about,’ said Sherman. “It has an appeal for young people going through issues with their parents and for parents trying to figure out why their kids are so stressed out all the time.”
Deerfield’s Ethan Barhydt fights against the genocide in Darfur
Barhydt (right) with his cousin, Allie Frankel, and Peter Bul, a Lost Boy of Sudan at a Darfur walk in October of 2008.
This summer, JVibe, the magazine for Jewish teens, gave out its first-ever “18 under 18” awards honoring extraordinary teens, and two of those special teens hail from the Chicago area—not too shabby! Oy! caught up with one of the local award-winners, 18-year-old Ethan Barhydt, recognized for his work as an advocate for the people of Darfur, before he begins a whirlwind year of internships and travel to East Africa.
Though issues of genocide are his main concern, Barhydt, who just graduated from Deerfield High School this year, said he finds time for several other activities and hobbies. In high school, he was part of student congress, debate club and the executive producer of the school’s television show. He loves music, and plays any instrument he can get his hands on, including guitar, banjo and piano. He is also an environmental activist.
Barhydt said his Jewish upbringing as part of a Humanistic congregation has a lot to do with his passion for issues of genocide. “The biggest effect that my Jewish heritage has had on me was when I was in this Jewish class on the Holocaust with Dick Strauss (at my temple). Throughout the class, he emphasized the concepts of upstanders and bystanders, that if it hadn’t been for the millions of bystanders in Germany than Hitler wouldn’t have been able to kill as many as he did. And at the same time he emphasized the heroic upstanders who did take action and were able to save a lot of lives. He told us repeatedly that if we just took one thing out of the class, that should be it—that we need to be upstanders for eternity.”
On the final day of class, Barhydt said they were handed an unexpected final exam, but instead of a test, the paper simply had the following message: ‘Your final exam is how you conduct the rest of your lives. Can it happen again? The answer is up to you and to your choices. Will you choose to get involved or will you be a bystander… That is your challenge. The answer is up to you.’
Barhydt still has that final exam hanging in his bedroom as a reminder. “I think the most powerful part of that is … ‘the answer is up to you.’ It’s both empowering and daunting to note that issues of genocide and crimes against humanity are a responsibility that I think all of us bear,” he said. “From that point and through that experience, I committed myself to being an upstander, primarily by fighting against the genocide in Darfur, and I plan for the rest of my life to fight against crimes against humanity wherever they take place.”
He stuck to his word, becoming involved in Amnesty International and Facing History and Ourselves in high school, and it was there that he first began to focus his attention on Darfur. During his sophomore year, he facilitated a collaboration among schools to work together, which would ultimately lead to the founding of Youth United for Darfur. Within a few weeks, he had 10 schools on a conference call organizing the first Youth United for Darfur conference. After that first event in April of 2008, there was a lot of momentum and enthusiasm about continuing, so in October, the group organized a benefit concert which raised about $3,000 for the Sudanese community center in Chicago.
“At that point we really established Youth United for Darfur and decided we wanted to do something even bigger.” So, in February of 2009, they began planning the Youth United for Darfur rally. On April 19, over 500 people representing more than 50 student groups in Chicago, along with representatives from Congress, and the Lost Boys of Sudan, gathered at Federal Plaza, to call on President Obama to act now to promote peace in Darfur. At the event, Youth United for Darfur raised over $17,000 to support the Enough Project's Darfur Dream Team Sister School program and the Sudanese Community Center in Chicago.
“That was a huge success to garner so much support from the Chicago community to be able to financially support a school almost half of a (Sudanese) school and to be able to show our support for the Sudanese community in Chicago.” Today, Youth United for Darfur is comprised of 40 student groups in the Chicago, and though Barhydt won’t be returning to Chicago for several years, he hopes the group will continue to be an effective force against genocide. “I think what’s really important is that we continue to increase the number of upstanders in the world and create a consistent constituency against genocide so that even when the genocide in Darfur ends, as (other) conflicts continue to arise that we have people already in place ready to take action,” Barhydt said.
In the meantime, Barhydt will soon be headed to Washington D.C. to intern for an organization that works in the political system to fight against genocide and east African conflict where he hopes to gain experience and learn more about political advocacy before he hopefully travels to east Africa himself. Next year, Barhydt will attend Macalester College in Minnesota where he plans to study international relations with a focus, not surprisingly, on east Africa.
So how does it feel to be one of JVibe’s 18 under 18 teens?
“It’s wonderful to be recognized,” Barhydt said. “I’m very appreciative of JVibe doing this because I think it does two very important things: hopefully it spreads the message about genocide and empowers students to get involved in issues that they’re passionate about. I definitely think that they’ve inspired a lot of people by featuring 18 youth who have gotten involved, and I feel lucky to be a part of that.”
First date dos and don’ts—from two people who’ve been there
In this season of reflection, as we look back on the past and look forward to a fresh start in the Jewish New Year, Cindy Sher offers first date tips to guys. Then, Jewish Chicago single guy David Cohen responds with a few dos and don’ts of his own for the ladies.
First date tips for men
By Cindy Sher
Over the course of my single years, in between relationships, I’ve gone on a lot of first dates. And trust me, first dates aren’t always as magical as they sound to people who don’t go on a lot of them.
If you met the man or woman of your dreams on your first and only first date—do people like you really exist?—you may not relate to my adventures in first dating.
For instance, my dear married friends with babies can’t quite relate. They lovingly try to talk up my pending dates with potential suitors; maybe some of these “mom” friends are even envious, living vicariously through me and my singledom.
Through my dating years, I’ve met many lovely Jewish men—mensches. Even though it didn’t work out with us, I know they’ll make wonderful husbands and fathers some day, and I wish these men many blessings.
But my column isn’t directed at them.
What follows is advice to some of the other men I’ve gone on first dates with, who weren’t, shall we say, my perfect match. In fact, we never went out again.
Now, maybe there are guys out there who didn’t love me so much on our first date either. And maybe, one day, I’ll even read about some of my own blunders on their blogs and Facebook walls. But for today, you’ll have to settle for “Cindy’s dating wisdom.”
Finding a date
In order to even get to the date, there’s often an Internet dating site, like JDate, to conquer first. Beware of the following steps in creating your dating profile:
Don’t tell me you’re looking for a woman who’s just as comfortable in sweats or a bathrobe as she is in a ball gown and high heels. The only way that would ever happen is if a designer comes out with a terrycloth line of strapless dresses and Nike heels.
Don’t write that you’re looking for a woman who cares about “an extremely healthy lifestyle.” We know that’s code for you want to date a “size 0.” Chances are you’re not really all that concerned about your future date’s iron deficiency or red blood cell count.
Do use good judgment in choosing your accompanying photo. What’s with the woman posing next to you that looks like your girlfriend? She’s cute, she’s about your age so she’s clearly not your mom or grandma, and you guys look like you’re having a ball together. Why not just date her? Or maybe she’s your sister?
The first date
Mazel tov! You’ve made it to the first date. What follows are first-date dos and don’ts, each nugget of advice based on my array of my real-life first dates.
Do get a little excited about your life; if you’re not, fake it. One man told me within 30 seconds of meeting him that “there is nothing interesting” about him and he leads “a really boring life.” Now I ask you, does that make me want to jump at the chance to share the rest of the date, let alone a lifetime, with Mr. Boring?
Do be kind to the waiter or waitress. Nothing reveals your character more than how you treat your server. Striking up a conversation with him/her earns extra brownie points with me.
Don’t try to sneak into a movie on a first date. Seriously, this actually happened. I realize that the cost of our two tickets will not make the difference of whether or not the Cineplex conglomerate or Adam Sandler go broke, but it might make the difference of whether or not you and I go out again.
Do offer to pay for my $2.43 tall hot cocoa with whipped cream at Starbucks—if you asked me out. This isn’t about you shelling out a lot of money. I don’t care about going to a fancy steakhouse for dinner and I will gladly pay on future dates. But deliberating over which one of us owes the extra three pennies in front of the Starbucks barista isn’t flirtatious, romantic, or sexy.
Don’t tell me tacky jokes about cheap Jews or Jewish American Princesses. They’re not funny.
Do, on the other hand, feel free to make me laugh. And whatever you do, don’t take yourself too seriously. We’re on a first date and first dates are, by their very nature, awkward and funny.
Then again, what do I know? I’m still single. Maybe you should talk to one of my “mom” friends—or better yet, her husband. He made it to the second date.
First date tips for women
By David Cohen
Finding a date
Don’t have your only picture be one that’s taken from far away or with sunglasses on. Yes, you do look great in your big ol’ Nicole Richie shades but I really just want to see what your face looks like. You're not in the witness protection program; you're just slightly embarrassed about being on JDate. It’s 2009; Internet dating is now mainstream. There is no shame. (Well, maybe a little shame.)
Don't describe yourself by using whimsical, sensory, observations like, "I love the smell of leather" or "Fresh snowflakes on my window ledge make me happy.” This isn't a poetry contest. Stick to describing your personality, your interests, and your priorities in life.
Do include a picture that shows me your figure. I know, I know, “men are so shallow.” Guilty. It has to do with evolution, but I’m looking for my soul mate. Before I contact you, I need to know if we might have chemistry together, or I’m likely to pass on your profile. If it makes you feel better, I have my skinny little chicken legs out there on the Internet for all the world to see.
Do give me your full attention on our first phone call. There’s nothing worse than trying to have a meaningful conversation with someone distracted while she’s in the check-out line at Jewel-Osco. You’re not making a good first impression on me or that cashier in front of you. Just ask to call me back when you’re home, after you’ve put away your soy milk.
The first date
Don't dominate the conversation. It's a known fact that women talk more than men so I expect this on a certain level. Let me get a few words in too. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to talk my ear off when we’re in an exclusive relationship.
Do reach for your purse when the check comes. I love this move even if I sense you’re bluffing me. I understand I’m expected to pay for the date and I’m happy to do it but I’m still charmed by the gesture if a woman offers to pay her share of the tab. I’ll always decline it. If you’re not into this tactic, no problem. But without a doubt, thank me at the end of the date for the drinks and/or dinner.
Do flirt with me if you like me and want me to ask you out again. Make it super obvious. If we made it to a first date, then your odds of a second date just went up significantly. The odds decrease, though, if I’ve gotten no sense that you’ve enjoyed my company. Tell me you love these ill-fitting pants that I got at T.J. Maxx. Or, reach for my hands and tell me how great my rough cuticles are. Give me something to go on. Fidgeting with your hair and good eye contact just isn’t cutting it.
Don't contact me after the first date no matter what your girlfriends say. If you flirted with me, then you'll hear from me—unless I’m just not that into you. Sending me an email, text, or voicemail, even just to thank me for the date, makes it too easy for me. I want to feel like I had to work at it…a little.
David Cohen currently resides in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. He agrees with Mom, friends, co-workers, and you that he is way too picky.
Hollywood likes to portray people living the double life. Usually the hero has an average job by day and is a crime fighter by night. Too bad no one told Tinseltown about Alan Veingrad. In one life, Alan spent seven years as an offensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers and Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys. His alter ego, Shlomo, is a 46-year-old family man who happens to be a devoted Orthodox Jew.
Veingrad, who now prefers to be called Shlomo, his Hebrew name, will be speaking about his experience as a Jew in the NFL at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13 at the Torah Learning Center in Northbrook. Just in time for football season to start, Oy!Chicago got a “pregame” chance to talk to Shlomo last month about everything from pregame prayers to playing in a Super Bowl…
Oy!Chicago: How would you describe your Jewish upbringing?
Shlomo Veingard: I grew up like the majority of Jews living in America. You grew up and you had your mother lighting candles for Chanukah. You may have made latkes…and you’re bar mitzvahed [and it] is kind of like the exit out of Judaism instead of the entrance into Judaism. By my house there wasn’t a lot of inspiration or a lot of discussion around what was going on in the Torah around various holiday times.
It wasn’t until years after that I was invited to my cousin’s house for a traditional Shabbos meal. He then asked if I would be interested in going to a Torah class, and I said I would go to one; again, I didn’t have much interest. I didn’t really know what it was all about. I always believed in God; however I was somewhat removed, playing football all those years and not being in a Jewish environment, so I went to one Torah class and it was somewhat enlightening.
Your faith grew from there?
I started to go and I started to look into it and I realized there is a lot of energy and a lot of power and a lot of inspiration that one can get from learning about what was in the Torah.
Five years ago you went to Israel and came back a changed man, what happened?
At the time I was on the fence, or kind of walking from one side of the bridge to another, meaning I was starting to dabble into making changes in my family’s life, becoming more observant. I went to Israel, and when I was in Israel I decided I would put on a yarmulke and put on a pair of tzitzit (fringes worn on the corners of a four-cornered garment; the garment and fringes together). I wasn’t sure what I would do when I came back to the states after I was there for two weeks. I just decided when I was there that I would explore and try and see how it felt. When I came back to the states it just stayed on.
Lets turn to the gridiron. How did your religion impact your life off the field?
Off the field there was religion in the locker room, and there was always a religious or spiritual leader from the Christian faith associated with every team I was ever involved with. They would reach out to everybody in the locker room. Before games and after games there would be the Lord’s Prayer said. Many times before practice in my high school days we would say the Lord’s Prayer. Obviously, being the only Jew, I wouldn’t participate in the prayer, but still, being a teammate I would gather around with my team and they would say their prayer and I would speak to God and ask God for certain things to help me through this competition that we were about to face, or thank Him for letting me walk off the field at the end of the competition.
Did the players and coaches ever ask you questions about your religion?
I never got any questions from the coaches about my religion. I’m not sure the coaches knew what religion I was or if it ever played a role. I think generally coaches don’t care where you are from, what your background is or what your faith is as long as you are able to perform on a certain level on game day and you are a good teammate. My teammates, on the other hand, in the college days, going to East Texas State, 65 miles northeast of Dallas—which is known as the Bible Belt—these are really spiritual people of the Christian faith, churchgoers. They would at times ask me about Judaism…I had to become more of an educator to these people because many times they had never met a Jew before and they would ask me about the Jewish faith. I had such a poor background growing up with the Jewish faith that I didn’t have a lot of the answers.
How many other Jews were there in the NFL in a given year?
It seems to me that the number is six. Every year it is anywhere between five to eight…It is interesting to note that I always knew who the other Jews were. How did I know? Somebody across the country would send me a newspaper from a Jewish-affiliated paper that would list the Jews playing in the National Football League. When I would play against another team, after the game we would always look for each other and say hello to each other. I am quite sure that somebody would also send that other guy the list and he knew who the Jews were like I did.
What was it like to be in a Super Bowl?
It was an amazing experience, the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl and all that goes along with it.
Meet two Jewish women who are rockin’ the roller derby
Photo credit Gil Leora
By day they are your average teachers, social workers, attorneys, bartenders, photographers, nurses, government workers, businesswomen, authors, or personal trainers, but when they put on their skates and don amusingly fierce names like Athena DeCrime and Hoosier Mama, they become the women of the roller derby.
I experienced the thrill of what this sport has to offer for the first time just a week and a half ago. It is fast and furious, while displaying the incredible agility and constant strategic athleticism of the players. You can watch roller derby in action on the silver screen in Drew Barrymore's film Whip It! coming out in early October, but you can also catch the real deal here in Chicago!
I got to chat with two of the Jewish members of Chicago’s roller derby teams—Donna Party, a member of the Windy City Rollers All-Stars, the number two ranked team in the country, and Tina Flay, (whose number 55 was inspired by her love for its Japanese translation, "go Jew go!") an up-and-coming player who has been training intensely to make her way onto a main team next season and is currently on the league's farm team, the Haymarket Rioters.
Left: Donna Party, photo credit Mariah Karson
Right: Tina Flay, photo credit Jamie DiVecchio Ramsay
David Reinwald: How did you get involved with roller derby?
Donna Party: I met a hair stylist who was one of the original captains of the Double Crossers (home team) in early 2005. She told me she was part of a new group, the Windy City Rollers, and invited me to their first game at the Congress Theater. I walked into the theater and right as the game began, I knew I had to join and be a part of the roller derby resurgence. I volunteered at all the bouts, bought skates, practiced with some friends who also wanted to join, and tried out in February of 2006. That season so many girls wanted to join that there were tryouts, call backs, interviews, then finally at the beginning of March we were notified that we had made it onto the league as "Skater Tots" (what we used to call new members of the league).
Tina Flay: I found a flyer for an All-Star game last summer and decided to check it out. Within five minutes of watching I knew it was something I absolutely had to do. Two days later I was on skates for the first time in over a decade; and four months later, after training an average of three to four times a week, I tried out and made the league.
What do you like most about roller derby?
Donna: I have met some amazing women in Chicago and around the country, learned about teamwork in ways that I had never experienced before, gotten in the best physical and mental shape of my life, and I have grown into the self-confident woman that I am today.
Tina: The thing I like most is the confidence it's given me as far as fitness. Growing up I was never fond of sports or gym class, and I exercised, more out of vanity than anything else, but thought of it as a chore. Roller derby has given me a whole new perspective in terms of what my body is capable of doing. I'm more fit than I've ever been, and exercising is now a tool for me to get stronger so I can perform better on the track.
Can you share an offbeat or funny story or two?
Donna: I broke my leg during East Coast Regionals of 2007. We are fortunate enough to have our own medical staff (Mama Vendetta: a nurse, Papa Doc Vendetta: a doctor, and Roe: a physical therapist), so when I came off the track, Mama and Papa told me I had to go to the hospital for X-rays. At the hospital, two of my teammates came to check up on me. I told them things weren't so bad (ended up being broken only in three places) and I would be back on skates in no time. One of the girls handed me an ABC's of derby coloring book, and pointed to the page where a skater was pictured in a hospital room with a cast on her leg and the doctor had his hand on his face looking like "What is wrong with you?" and the caption was, "So, when can I skate?" It made me laugh, but the real answer for me was in six months.
Tina: I've had so many "It's a Small World"-type encounters since I've joined the league, it's uncanny. As soon as I mention WCR someone will say, "Oh, do you know so-and-so? She's my coworker/friend/stylist/cousin/etc!" I even had one of those myself - as it turns out, I met our league founder through my mom long before I even knew what roller derby was.
Photo credit Gil Leora
What type of training and conditioning do you do to keep yourself ready for the sport?
Donna: I am on the All-Stars and the Double Crossers, so I am required to attend at least three to four practices a week, and most of theAll-Stars skate five or six times a week. Each practice is two hours long and they vary from endurance, speed, agility, blocking, awareness, and scrimmage drills. I also train by riding my bicycle everywhere year round, and I do a lot of yoga for strength and flexibility training.
Tina: There's been an emphasis on cross-training this season, so in addition to regular skating practices I've been doing a lot of jogging, weight-lifting, and plyometrics. Recently a split swimming/yoga class was added to our league practice options, so I've been attending that as well.
What would you want to say to your fans and to those who haven't yet experienced roller derby?
Tina: To our fans, I'd like to say thank you for your support, and I hope to see you at our next bout! To those who haven't seen it, I'd like to say you love roller derby, you just don't know it yet! There are still a lot of misconceptions about roller derby out there, such as it's staged or it's just chicks in fishnets beating each other up. Some of our names may be fake, but the action on the track is real; and while it is a contact sport, there's a lot of strategy and skill involved beyond just knocking people over.
Donna: We are a competitive, nationally ranked, all-women sport. Gone are the days of fake fighting and a pre-determined outcome. I would encourage anyone who has not been to a game to check out our website and to come out to our game against Portland on October 17 at UIC Pavilion. The bouts are action packed and when you see an injury like a broken leg, knocked out tooth, or torn rotator cuff, it is all real. We belong to a national organization, the WFTDA (Women's Flat Track Derby Association), are owned and run by the skaters on the league, and rely on the support of members, volunteers, and generous sponsors to make it possible for us to do what we love: play roller derby.
Photo credit Tiffany O'Neill
I’ve been in a very thoughtful place of late. The loss of both John Hughes, the passionate chronicler of my adolescence, and Michael Jackson, who I loved right up until he lost his ever loving mind, and whose music defined my entire childhood, put me in a fog of nostalgia. I see odd vestiges of my youth everywhere, and it isn’t always pretty. Neon is making a weird fashion comeback, as are shoulder pads, and I really hope it is short lived. Remakes of 90210 and Melrose Place are on the airwaves. Hershey is now using Modern English’s anthem of teen longing “I Melt With You” to sell chocolate bars with almonds. No, really.
It’s official. I’m old.
Not wrinkly old, or walker old, or get excited about Al Roker old, just old enough that some pleasures are no longer worth the attendant discomforts. Old enough that I have effectively given up on the adventures of my younger years and to be quite honest, I don’t really miss them. Glad to have participated, happy for the memories, but not at all sad to be in a place to, in another reference to my past, Just Say No!
One of the places I find myself giving into adulthood is in my eating and socializing. Once upon a time I wouldn’t think twice about waiting in lines for the hot new place, or squishing into a bad table on an off night just to say I had been somewhere.
These days are blissfully over. I am, in my 39th year, secure enough in who I am and what I like to simply do what I want. And luckily for me, most of my peers want what I want. We entertain at home more than we go out, having gotten to a place where we all own enough chairs and plates to make such a thing possible, and enough skill in the kitchen to be able to equal if not exceed the pleasures of eating in restaurants. When we do go out, we tend to find cozy and quiet places where you can linger over good food and have great conversation, instead of the hot ticket of the moment. We have discovered the joys of lunch, especially long multi course lunches at fancy restaurants, where for half the price of dinner you can still experience the best of the kitchen, and then have the rest of the day to recover and not have to go to sleep on ten courses. I find that the meals I share these days are in every way more comfortable and pleasurable than they were 10 years ago, and it is a lovely thing to settle into.
This became patently clear with a recent dining epiphany:
Every now and again, you need a burger. Not just any burger, a truly great burger. A drip juices down your arm can’t get your whole mouth around it burger. The hottest burger in town right now is at Kuma’s Corner at 2900 W. Belmont. Kuma’s has a lot of things going for it. It was recently named the single best burger in Chicago by Chicago magazine. It has been featured on the Food Network. It is five minutes from my house. Usually this is the holy trinity of wonderful. I made plans to meet a friend there for dinner, and got ready to have my burger world rocked. And I have to say that the burger I ate there was probably the most spectacular burger I have ever eaten. I got a Mastodon, a huge meaty burger with a BBQ sauce glaze, cheddar cheese, crispy bacon and topped with a mound of “frizzled onions” (essentially extra thin fried onion strings), on their signature pretzel roll. And make no mistake, it was the burger to end all burgers. And I am so glad I ate it because I will probably never have one again.
Why? Because as good as the burger was, and is, and as fond a memory as I will always have of it, it wasn’t a good time.
Because I? Am old.
Too old to want to have to wait outside sitting on a curb for over an hour to get a table at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday night.
Too old to want to wait another hour for a kitchen the size of a postage stamp to assemble and deliver the pinnacle of burger perfection.
Too old to want to scream at the top of my lungs to be heard by my dining companion over the endless shriek of heavy metal music.
Kuma’s clearly doesn’t need my business. (One hour wait on a Tuesday!) Neither of my tattoos are visible to the public, and all of my piercings are in my ears, so I’m not their kind of eye candy. I could probably have given birth to half their clientele. I drive a Honda Accord Hybrid Sedan, and am old enough to look at the string of motorcycles outside as the source of future organ donations and not as exciting transportation.
I am glad that they exist, I just wish they would open a Kuma’s Café for those of us over 30 who still possess most of our hearing and like to make reservations.
Kuma’s is an experience, and I have to say, I do recommend at least one visit for everyone. In the meantime, if you are craving a great burger but like me, don’t want to devote three hours to the prospect, let me recommend the following:
Four Moon Tavern
1847 W. Roscoe: I know I’ve touted them before, but they satisfy my burger need with finesse, a lovely array of possible toppings, and better still, a juke box that doesn’t compete with conversation, and quick service.
807 W. Webster: You might not think burger at first blush, being that this is a Greek restaurant, but theirs is juicy and meaty, and you can get it fancied up with feta cheese if you are feeling adventurous.
500 S. Dearborn: Want a truly upscale burger? Sidle up to the bar and dig in to Shawn McClain’s version with aged cheddar and shaved onions and fantastic fries. Amazing. And at $12, the best bargain in the place. Glorious.
Yours in good taste,
NOSH of the week: Sweet corn is in, and you don’t need me to tell you how to grill, boil, steam or sauté it. But my new go-to salad this summer is a combination of arugula, pea shoots, and raw sweet corn with a simple herb vinaigrette. If you’ve never thought of eating it raw, now is the perfect time to try. I love my Rikon corn stripper, available at Sur La Table for quickly getting the whole kernels off the cob with minimum fuss.
NOSH Food Read of the Week: in honor of the new Julie and Julia movie, and since I have already recommended both the books the movie is based upon, let me recommend Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1, the cookbook that started it all, and a surprisingly compelling read.
Jewish burlesque troupe comes to Chicago
Working as a performance artist, it didn’t take Susannah Perlman long to discover she wasn’t the only nice Jewish girl trying to make a living by doing things on stage (telling naughty jokes, wearing not all the much clothing) of which her mother did not approve.
“I do comedy and music and I have hosted burlesque,” she recalled. “And in the course of these things, I kept on running into amazing women who happened to be Jewish, and I thought, what if I put it all together?”
The result: Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad, a burlesque-y variety show that pokes fun at all things Semitic.
Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad will be in Chicago Sept. 4 and 5 performing at the Lakeshore Theatre. The show runs the gamut of irreverent religion-themed acts, from classic Jewish songs rewritten as disco and pop tunes to a Chassidic strip tease. Audiences can also expect a “Hava Nagila” go-go number and a piece in which hamantaschen is presented as a fertility symbol.
“It’s really a fun show, very colorful,” Perlman said.
Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad is currently in its sixth year and has been performed all over the country at clubs, universities and, interestingly enough, even synagogues. Perlman said that although the show resonates most strongly with Jewish crowds, audiences of all stripes have proved receptive to the girls’ antics.
“There’s something for everyone,” Perlman said. “Women, gay and straight, like it because it has a lot of feminist undertones. Gay men like it because it’s campy and kitschy. And straight men like it because it’s dirty.”
Over the years, Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad has acquired a rotating ensemble of between 30-40 different musicians, comedians, dancers and vaudevillians, with five or six women performing at any given show. Perlman said she often tries to bring in local acts as well from each region the show visits. In Seattle, she has been in contact with Jewish burlesque artists Miss Indigo Blue and the Naked Folk Singer.
Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad bills its performers as “gals who learned to smoke at Hebrew School, got drunk at their Bat Mitzvahs and would rather have more schtuppa than the chuppah.”
Perlman herself grew up in a Jewish household in Pittsburgh, “going to Jewish summer camp and trips to Israel.”
As unkosher as scantily clad-women crooning about gefilte fish may seem to some, the fundamentals of the show — Jewish music and Jewish humor — likely resonate with almost anyone who spent their youth in Hebrew school class rooms and on B’nai Brith overnights.
“We say the show is for anyone ages 18 to 80,” Perlman said. “A lot of East Coast old timers really like it because it reminds them of the old-timey comedy shows.”
Six years in, Perlman added that even her mother is starting to warm up to the idea.
“We’ve been getting good reviews lately and her friends forward them to her,” she said. “Last time I went to visit, when she introduced me around at her synagogue, that was the first thing she’d say about me. I think it’s the first time she’s really been telling people about the show.”
“Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad” will perform at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 4 and at 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Sept. 5 at Chicago’s Lakeshore Theatre (3175 N. Broadway). For more information, visit http://www.nicejewishgirlsgonebad.com.
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