It was only natural for Jennie Fahn to work through her feelings about motherhood, grief and growth through humor. After all, she spent her 20s doing sketch comedy in Los Angeles.
In 2002, when her oldest son was in first grade, she began performing “You Mutha! A One Mother Show,” a solo act about “being a mother, having a mother and knowing other mothers,” Fahn told Jewish News.
She took a hiatus after its two-year run, focusing on caring for her parents and son. But after her mother passed in 2012, it was time for something new.
“My mom was a difficult person, which is not to say I didn’t love her any less, or that she loved me any less, and that’s one of the beautiful things about my show: I get to celebrate her,” Fahn said. “It doesn’t sugarcoat things, but it is a really beautiful tribute to this woman who was a very complicated but very loving person.”
Fahn’s show, “Under the Jello Mold,” is coming to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Sept. 23-26.
The 80-minute show tells the story of Fahn’s mother at the end of her life. Its title references where her mother kept her post-mortem instructions.
Her mother was always “pretty open” about death and the end of life, and Fahn didn’t realize that wasn’t necessarily common — until she brought it up with others.
“I found that when I talked about it, people were like, ‘Oh, my God, can I tell you something?’” she said. “They felt like they were confessing something.”
The show deals with death, hospice, mental illness, family secrets and even being a Girl Scout. Audience members each identify with something different, and Fahn most looks forward to learning about what stands out to people during post-show chatter.
Abbey Messmer, programming director for SCPA, said she learned about the show through a trusted agent.
“He brought this really unique show to us and said, ‘You gotta have it in your small space,’” Messmer said. She hasn’t seen it yet and will be in the audience opening night.
“We all have colorful characters in our families, and I love that Fahn is talking about her mother in a really beautiful and comedic way,” she said.
Fahn first came up with the idea for the show in 2001 and decided to write an experimental 10-minute monologue and perform it in front of some colleagues.
A voice from the back in the room, belonging to her friend, Tom Cavanaugh, yelled, “Jennie, you’re going to write it into a show, and we’re going to take it to the Hollywood Fringe (Festival), and I’m going to direct it and produce it.”
The show won the festival in 2017, and she and Cavanaugh have expanded it since. Fahn has continued to perform the show throughout California, including at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, Fahn’s synagogue. Her last in-person performance was Feb. 9, 2020 in Sacramento.
Fahn said her mother lived her life up until the last minute. “That’s one of the main things that makes me happy in remembering her,” she said.
Fahn hopes the audience will, in celebrating her mom who is no longer here, remember to go home and celebrate the people who still are.
“Everybody is going to die. It’s not such a terrible thing,” she said. “Let’s all just make the best of it and celebrate each other while we can. Because one day, you’re going to walk in and find somebody just sitting there.”
“Under the Jello Mold” is among more than 170 shows in SCPA’s upcoming season, which kicks off Saturday, Sept. 11, Messmer said.
The center was open on and off throughout the last year with different levels of COVID safety protocols. “The focus is safety. And, second to that, it’s just getting back to work and providing opportunities for artists to work who haven’t been able to travel or perform in over a year,” she said.
Starting Oct. 1, in order to attend a show, patrons must show proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours or show proof of vaccination. Masks are encouraged but not required.
Fahn is nervous about her upcoming in-person performance.
“I hope everyone who attends is following the science on what it takes to be safe so everyone in the theater can relax and enjoy themselves,” she said. “At its core, this show is a reminder that we all go through the same things: life, love, loss... we’re all just people. Let’s have a few laughs together.” JN