The Mah Jongg Game
The Mah Jongg Game celebrates a pivotal yet unsung generation of Jewish-American women who came of age in the years immediately after World War II. Based on actress-monologist Alison Lustbader’s one-act play of the same name, the documentary is an exploration of the life themes introduced with great humor and poignancy by this one-woman show.
The documentary opens with a performance of Lustbader’s original 20-minute play, performed for the first time in two decades. Sometime in the 1970s in Newburgh, New York, Blanche (Lustbader) is hosting Mah Jongg with friends while she relates a troubling conversation she has had with her teenage daughter. Pointedly asking her mother, “What are you so afraid of?” the daughter sparks Blanche’s wide-ranging reflections on a life that may or may not have been fully lived.
After the show concludes, the film transports viewers first to Florida and finally back to upstate New York for a present-day revisiting of the real-life Mah Jongg culture that Lustbader’s own mother and her mother’s friends knew. We witness this culture through the eyes of these former Mah Jongg companions, and we encounter the practical realities of confronting one’s life choices and coming to terms with inevitable doubts about those choices.
These women are from a generation whose mothers in many cases had immigrated to the U.S. from overseas, and whose daughters frequently grew up to establish modern professional careers away from their roots. The women of The Mah Jongg Game and countless others like them represent an important middle generation who stayed closer to home. For them, Mah Jongg became a primary source of independence from the responsibilities of home and family.
The Mah Jongg Game examines the ways in which familial bonds, friendships, and sometimes denial have provided essential joy, refuge, meaning, and ultimately inspiration to a generation of women.
Producer: Ilena Ferrer
Director: Greg Morris