By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
It’s a joke, OK? “Ruggedly is the very last adjective you’d expect to see in front Jewish,” says the very funny Bob Garfield, an American journalist and commentator who is co-host of the Peabody Award-winning public radio show “On the Media.”
“Ruggedly Jewish: An Evening with Bob Garfield” is the broadcaster, pundit and storyteller’s one-man, multimedia monologue that’s coming to the Park West Theater for one night, Dec. 9. It’s a search for self through the characters Garfield has chronicled throughout his career; the American self, the suddenly-emerging threatened self and his own baffled self—a secular Jew.
“I think all faiths struggle with their religious identities, but for Jews historically, it is a particular challenge because of assimilation into cultures that are subtly or explicitly hostile,” Garfield, a Washington, D.C. resident, says.
In a raw, wistful, hilarious and disturbing encounter session, the inveterate journalist weaves together disparate narrative threads on the subject of identity to explore the exploration of self itself. A crazy-quilt, 90-minute multimedia experience, “Ruggedly Jewish” bounces from harrowing life-and-death moments to oddballs galore.
“This is certainly a spectacle of me trying to make sense of who I am,” Garfield said, “but it’s really much more concerned with who you are—who we all are—as individuals and as a society. Especially at this particular political moment.”
Garfield has struggled to define his Jewish identity his whole life. “I’ve run away from my Jewishness. I’m not religious, non-practicing, but the entire time I’ve also identified as Jewish and been as culturally Jewish as can be. I’m a mezuzah without the scroll.” His whole life, he’s had trouble reconciling those counterforces. “Let me just tell you that the current political circumstances and the very process of doing this show has answered all my questions for me and I hope along the way answers questions for those who watch the show. I firmly get a grip on who we are in this mess we call life.”
The show originated from a half-written memoir that Garfield abandoned for the stage project.
Garfield describes his show as a conundrum where history, duty, family, intellectual honesty, culture, taste and religious law present seemingly irreconcilable conflicts. “I don’t want to step on the punchline, but I was able to reconcile them.”
The one-man show was an ideal format for the exploration of identity, he says. “This show takes all these disparate strands on the subject of identity and weaves them together in a way that gets the audience to think about who they are and in terms they haven’t before. If they are Jews, it gives them permission to be Jewish in any way that suits them.”
Garfield, who wrote for Chicago’s Crain Communications for 25 years, has forged a 40-year career in newspapers, magazines, radio and television. He co-hosts WNYC’s On the Media with Brooke Gladstone. The weekly hour is a Top 50 podcast and is broadcast by 450 stations nationwide. Garfield is the author of five books, a recent visiting lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania and a senior fellow at the Wharton Future of Advertising Program, SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management.
For tickets to the 7: 30 p.m. Dec. 9 production of “Ruggedly Jewish” visit www.parkwestchicago.com or call 773-929-5959.