TV Review : ‘Bubbe’: Family Tales With Yiddish Accent


“Bubbe Meises, Bubbe Stories,” writer-performer Ellen Gould’s one-woman musical journey, has a certain Yiddish appeal, steeped as it is in an Old World grandmother (the “Bubbe”) whose anecdotal wisdom illuminates life for her modern, floundering granddaughter.

Of course, the subject is universal--about family and tradition--but its Yiddish accent certainly enriches what appears to be an autobiographical experience.

Bubbe Meises , a noun of Yiddish derivation meaning old wives’ tales or stories of superstition, follows a lonely, contemporary Jewish woman who travels emotional bridges through time and memory, thanks to her Bubbe, who sets her life on the right path.


Gould, in a 75-minute production adapted from her 1992 Off Broadway musical, plays three women: herself as the granddaughter at a crossroads and her two long-dead, immigrant Russian grandmothers, whom Gould re-enacts through amusing stories, body language and vocal accents.

Gould sings a good deal of the material in a stylized production fluidly directed by Craig McKay (a top motion picture editor). Supported by off-stage musical accompaniment, a little of the show’s music, however, goes a long way; in fact, the script goes a long way and would carry more impact if it were seriously trimmed.

Those old tales about Russian socialism, Bubbe’s mythical jeweled necklace and her ocean crossing do get a tad redundant. This is the kind of solo production that would seem to work better on a live stage, although, to be fair, one of the camera’s warmest achievements is telling close-ups of the live studio audience.

Since the courage to leave families behind and face an unknown life in America has recently become frowned upon and at the very least suspect, “Bubbe Stories” is a sweet reminder of two of the best screen experiences about Bubbes everywhere: writer-director Joan Macklin Silver’s ode to turn-of-the century Eastside New York, “Hester Street” (1974), and Elia Kazan’s immigrant odyssey “America, America” (1963).

* “Bubbe Meises, Bubbe Stories” airs at 9 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28 and KPBS-TV Channel 15.