The Burning Bush
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
March 9, 2007
Tracey Erin Smith's solo show, The Burning Bush!, is a saucy, freewheeling good time that walks the line between tasteful and tasteless perfectly. This story of a rabbinical student who becomes a stripper serves up a well-earned bunch of laughs, and Smith delivers the goods as both writer and performer.
Well, she almost delivers the goods, if you know what I mean. Audiences don't get anything close to "the full monty," as it were, but what they do get more than makes up for it.
Barbara Baumawitz is a serious rabbinical student who gets kicked out of school for being "too serious." Not knowing what to do, she's led to a local strip club by her Fairy Godmother, Jackie Mason (that's right: Jackie Mason). There she meets Christy, a Madonna-obsessed stripper who wants to learn Kabbalah. Before long, Barbara is holding weekly Torah Study at the club until one day the other strippers encourage her to get up on stage during amateur night, and this would-be-rabbi finds a higher calling.
Sound crazy? You betcha. But, that's the charm of The Burning Bush! Smith puts this implausible scenario across with such gusto that she totally sells it. It doesn't hurt that she is an immensely likable and talented performer, blessed with the gifts of good comic timing and shamelessness.
Smith is also a skilled writer who knows her way around a well-constructed plot. The Burning Bush! boasts many funny and memorable moments including a 2-minute explanation of Kabbalah, "Amazing Grace" sung in Hebrew, Barbara's analysis of Madonna's songs as one-on-one conversations with God, and Jackie Mason stealing pickles out of Barb's refrigerator. And, when Barbara finally walks off stage after her inaugural striptease, she finds herself possessed with "the zeal of the newly perverted." This is funny stuff.
Most of all, though, Smith knows how to connect with the audience and make them root for her. More than anything else, this is what makes The Burning Bush! a total crowd-pleaser. Theatergoers (and deep-pocketed commercial producers) should check it out while they still have the chance.