The Arty Semite

Choosing The Chosen: Katherine Williams's Shiksappeal

By Blair Thornburgh

  • Print
  • Share Share
Nadine Markova

At one point in “SHIKSAPPEAL: Getting the Chosen to Choose Me,” a one-woman show that recently appeared at the New York Fringe Festival, Catholic comedienne Katherine Williams is confronted by a Jewish friend over her identity as self-appointed shiksa: “You do know that’s derogatory, right?” Williams shrugs it off without missing a beat. “It just means that you’re a Gentile girl some Jewish guys find attractive.”

Indeed, there’s little that’s derogative about the entire production, a light-hearted look at the life of a goyish gal who can’t help but fall for nice Jewish boys. Williams, the show’s writer, performer, and titular shiksa, cracks wise about her problem while playing a host of characters, including herself: “I tried to find the nice Catholic boy I was supposed to, but for every Tony, Chad, or Alex I dated, there were three Bens, Joshs, or Seths who I was immediately drawn to.” Engaging and energetic, Williams is eager to dish on her love life. “Katherine’s been on top of more Jews than a yarmulke,” quips one character. Says another friend, “Katherine Williams likes Jews so much she gets laid right to left.”

Yet despite taking on potentially fertile topics for a farce of Jewish jokes and single-girl antics in New York City, “Shiksappeal” manages to resist the low-hanging grapes of stereotype and tell a story with heart and honesty.

Onstage, Williams shows a strong stand-up sensibility, with the requisite mix of bravado and bare honesty. She raises eyebrows and delivers lines with a sharp and confident kind of charm. In spotlit stand-up asides, she takes a page out of Sarah Silverman’s playbook and works and warps her “good Catholic girl” persona to solid comedic effect. Even when her humor leans towards the Borscht-belt-y, she’s ready with a defense: “I can say that. I have Jewish hair.”

For the other characters, Williams does a largely successful job of changing her physicality. Fellow comic Sheila, a high maintenance Upper East Sider, gets the nasally voice of the post-nose-job crowd and a haughty stance to support “the biggest natural breasts I’ve ever seen.” For Gary, her nebbishy Modern Orthodox buddy from acting class and “the Jewiest Jew I’ve ever met,” she adopts a wide-eyed straightforwardness. The impressions teeter on stereotype, but Williams is careful not to let them tip over.

Nor does she spare her own tribe from teasing. She describes her Irish Catholic father as a combination of curmudgeons that begins with Archie Bunker and ends with Mr. Frederickson from “Up” — complete with the dead wife and hatred of small children.” The final word in a debate over the merits of Christian holidays with her Jewish boyfriend is that “we have better holidays and all you have is parents who love you.”

But what makes gives this shiksa’s story real appeal is its emotional dynamism hidden behind its humor. Williams takes an easy topic for potshots and uses it to disarm, exposing a truer part of herself and her relationships with Jews. Her platonic friendship with Gary evolves from a platform for gags and misunderstandings to a real and constant source of support throughout her heartbreaks (“Pick up your phone! The sun went down 45 minutes ago!”). And as the dating merry-go-round eventually slows,

Williams finds herself involved with Devon, a guy whose Facebook lists him as a “non-practicing Jew” and “proud father of an amazing little boy named Jake.” But just as the trio comes together into an almost family, an easy night out for a bloody Mary leads to an unexpected honesty that forces Katherine to do some real questioning of her own. Looking into her faith and her friendships, she wonders if the latter can bridge a difference in the former. This, says Williams, was the theme of her work.

“It’s really about how your religion and upbringing dictates your relationships into adulthood,” Williams said in a post-show interview. “How you find those people in your life that you choose to commit to.”

After (gently) reining in the snark for conversations with Sheila, Devon, and Gary, she discovers that some, in fact, can survive — but only some. The narrative that comes to a close at “Shiksappeal”’s end is not just one of slapstick and misadventures, but a little commentary of its own on what it means to be chosen.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Theater, Katherine Williams, Archie Bunker

Find us on Facebook!
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.