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Imagining Bubbe 

The press release said it was about "the richness of grandmother-granddaughter relationships," so, to tell you the truth, I headed off to the Kol Isha production of Imagining Bubbe with a bit of trepidation. I have nothing against grandmothers or granddaughters, but since people are usually loathe to condemn their own family members in private, let alone on stage, a sea of sentimentality seemed to be in the offing.

As it turns out, Imagining Bubbe isn't that. Or, perhaps, isn't only that. The members of this Jewish women's theater group certainly do love their bubbes, sure, but they go out of their way to avoid mawkish deification.

The script, written by Elizabeth Boltson Gordon, is a loose collection of skits and short scenes based on ensemble members' personal experiences, usually involving cultural dissonance between generations. There's no "point," really, to most of it -- just snapshots and stolen moments.

What gives this play its dramatic weight is the manner in which the grandmothers are presented as women first, rather than iconic dispensers of wisdom and love trotted out on the holidays. And not just women, but women with a history that includes Russian pogroms, the Holocaust, immigration to the United States and the assimilation of the Jewish middle classes in America after the second world war. These bubbes experienced a world shuddering through enormous change and upheaval, and a big part of Imagining Bubbe is about how they've passed on that knowledge, intelligence and -- again and again -- that wariness to their granddaughters.

Kol Isha is, in the best sense, a community theater; under Amy Guterson's direction, the women involved approach the script with tremendous conviction and integrity. I'm not so much of a bitch that the simple joy of people performing material for which they feel so deeply is lost on me. To say that some parts are more successful than others isn't really the point of Imagining Bubbe and Kol Isha. So call up your grandmother and take her ... it's the least you can do.

Imagining Bubbe continues through March 11. Jewish Community Center, 5738 Darlington Rd., Squirrel Hill. 412-421-7786.

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