By all rights, a scene featuring a kindly grandma falling over and banging her head on a wooden synagogue pew should not be funny, but in the hands of Wendy Spero, somehow it miraculously is. Spero describes the episode in her new book, “Microthrills,” an enchanting memoir of a childhood spent in a cramped, one-bedroom Manhattan apartment with her sex therapist mother. (The author’s father died when she was just 10 months old.)
“Toward the end of my uber-Reform bat mitzvah service,” Spero writes, “the rabbi announced, ‘Will everyone in mourning please rise.’ And — twelve years after my father’s death — my grandparents rose. But, swept up in the emotion of it all, my grandmother couldn’t deal, so, as she stood up she fainted and fell to the ground. Only moments after the congregation let out a collective gasp, two ambulance men in white coats came running up the side aisle and took her away.”
The story is emblematic of the book as a whole, which is suffused with equal parts tragedy and love — and an unerring eye for the quirky.
Spero, the author of two autobiographical one-woman shows, has used a video of the event onstage — with a final shot of her grandmother at the bat mitzvah reception holding an ice pack to her forehead, proving that, in the end, everything turned out okay.
“It’s the best part of the show,” Spero told the Shmooze. “Everybody would roar.”
Spero has just one regret when it comes to the video (which now can be viewed at www.wendyspero.com), and that is that the videographer stopped filming after her grandmother fell.
“I so wish he had kept it going a little longer,” she said. “What’s it to him? We hired him to shoot the bat mitzvah. We paid the man to film what went down — literally — and he decided to exercise artistic judgment. I’ll forever be annoyed.”