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District Merchants
by Aaron Posner
Directed by Jacqueline Thompson
New Jewish Theatre
January 24, 2019

J. Samuel Davis
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

For their latest production, New Jewish Theatre is staging another literary inspired comedy by Aaron Posner. Like last year’s Chekhov-based Life Sucks, District Merchants takes a new look at its inspiration–this time Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice–and re-imagines the characters and situations in a new setting. It’s a new look at an much-studied and problematic classic that honors its source material while simultaneously challenging and reinventing it.

The story is now set in Washington, DC and Massachusetts in the 1870s. The Civil War is over, slavery is outlawed, but racial tensions and injustices remain. The central figures, who address the audience to introduce themselves at the beginning of the show, are Jewish moneylender Shylock (Gary Wayne Barker), and Antoine (J. Samuel Davis), a black businessman who was born free, and who borrows money from Shylock to help his young friend, Benjamin Bassanio (Rob White) woo a wealthy young woman named Portia (Courtney Bailey Parker). That all sounds like The Merchant of Venice, essentially, but there are notable twists. There are some important things Benjamin hasn’t told Antoine about Portia, and about the manner in which he’s going about pursuing her. Shylock, for his part, is given a lot more backstory, and is a more sympathetic character, although he’s overprotective of his daughter Jessica (Alicen Moser), leading to her wanting to leave his house for good. She’s also attracted to Finn (Paul Edwards), a young Irish immigrant who has ulterior motives for pursuing Jessica, at least at first. Portia, in the meantime, wants to go to Harvard law school and become a lawyer, but she’s not allowed because she’s a woman. That doesn’t stop her, though. Meanwhile, Portia’s longtime maid and confidante Nessa (Rae Davis) is aware of more than she lets on, and challenges Portia on her own biases. There’s also Lancelot (Karl Hawkins), Shylock’s household servant who sympathizes to degrees with both Shylock and Jessica and finds himself in the middle of all the disputes. That’s the setup, really, but there’s a whole lot that goes on here that I won’t spoil. It follows the basic framework of The Merchant of Venice in a lot of ways, but also deviates from that plot in several important ways. Several key speeches from Shakespeare are included, as well, especially notable speeches for Shylock and Portia.

This is a fascinating twist on the source material, which has been subject for controversy and criticism over the years, especially in its treatment of Shylock and Jewish people in general. Here, the twist is that nobody is in the dominant social group in 1870s society. The main characters are Jewish or black, and there’s also the Irish Finn, and Portia who is wealthy and white, but as a woman isn’t allowed to pursue the career she desires, and is expected to make an advantageous marriage. The tensions represented here are personal as well as societal, and larger issues of systemic injustice are also emphasized, with some fourth-wall breaking and direct challenges to the 2019 audience. The tone is still, for the most part, comic, but there’s some poignant drama here, as well, particularly in the expanded backstory of Shylock, which gives his reasons for sheltering his daughter and demanding his “pound of flesh” from Antoine. The dynamics of all the relationships are turned around, but ultimately it’s a comedy and there is still hope.

The staging by director Jacqueline Thompson is fast-paced and dynamic, and the cast assembled here is truly excellent. Davis and Barker are the central figures, and both are terrific. Barker’s Shylock is guarded, insecure, but also proud at the same time, and Davis displays considerable presence as the determined Antoine. Both men energize the stage when they are on it, and their scenes together are especially memorable. There are also impressive performances from White and Parker, who display strong chemistry as Benjamin and Portia; and Moser and Edwards, with equally strong chemistry as Jessica and Finn. Davis, as the witty, occasionally snarky Nessa, and Hawkins as Lancelot also display good chemistry and excellent comic timing. It’s a cohesive ensemble all around, bringing a lot of humor, as well as depth to their portrayals.

Technically, this production is a wonder, with a stunning multilevel set by David Blake and meticulously detailed period costumes by Felia Davenport. Sean Savoie’s lighting also contributes effectively to the mood and tone of the production, as do Zoe Sullivan’s sound and projection, helping to transport the audience back to a different, fully realized time and place.

District Merchants is a funny play, but also poignant and challenging. It takes a well-known Shakespearean tale and turns it around, bringing new depth to the relationships and situations. It also boasts a first-rate cast of local performers. It’s another impressive, intriguing comedy by Aaron Posner, given a remarkable production at New Jewish Theatre.

Gary Wayne Barker
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting District Merchants at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until February 10, 2019.

 

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An Act of God
by David Javerbaum
Directed by Edward Coffield
New Jewish Theatre
November 29, 2018

Cassidy Flynn, Alan Knoll, Amanda Wales
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

It’s kind of like a cross between a late-night cable access show and a Netflix comedy special, but the host is God. An Act of God is New Jewish Theatre’s latest production, featuring a well-loved local actor and a lot of joking, philosophizing, and a whole lot of snark. It’s a short play, running a little over an hour with no intermission, and it succeeds mostly because of personality and attitude, although its philosophical musings range from the mildly thought-provoking to the “been there, heard that”.

The play is written by playwright, author, and television writer David Javerbaum, who is also responsible for the Twiter account @TheTweetofGod. If you’ve read his Twitter, you’ll have a fairly good idea of what this rendition of God, played by Alan Knoll, is going to say. The premise is that God has a message for the people of earth, and so he inhabits the body of “St. Louis theatre treasure” Knoll to give his presentation, assisted by two angels, Michael (Cassidy Flynn), and Gabriel (Amanda Wales). Apparently, the Supreme Being has decided that his original Ten Commandments are obsolete (or, at least, most of them are) and he’s now here to present a new, improved set for the modern world. I won’t give them all away, but they are accompanied by explanations and commentary, in which he provides an explanation, including revised take on well-known Bible stories and concepts, coming across largely as sometimes charming, sometimes witty, frequently snarky, and not a little bit vain, giving answers to age-old questions in a sometimes thought-provoking and sometimes smug way. Depending on your personal religious beliefs, this can range from funny to annoying, but one thing it definitely is is irreverent.

The play is most effective as a showcase for Knoll, who lends his strong, amiable stage presence to this larger-than-life, occasionally apologetic, more-than-occasionally confrontational and capricious portrayal of God. It’s an energetic, well-timed comic performance that makes the most of the material Knoll is given. He also has strong chemistry with his angels–the equally excellent Flynn as the increasingly challenging and questioning Michael, who fields questions from the audience (sort of), and Wales as the devoted, more childlike Gabriel, who reads the Bible passages as needed. They’re performing on a well-realized set by Josh Smith that resembles the brick-wall-backed stage of a comedy club, and they’re whimsically outfitted by costume designer Michele Friedman Siler. The lighting by Josh Smith, sound by Amanda Were, and projection design by Michael Perkins also support the production well, helping to create and maintain the irreverent, comedy-club type atmosphere. There are even some tables in the front where audience members can sit.

An Act of God is not for everyone, but it’s an excellent showcase for its leading performer. It’s a funny, sometimes crass, sometimes confrontational exploration of the way God and religion has been viewed, and sometimes twisted, over the years. Depending on your own personal views, that challenge can be seen as incisive, simplistic, or incomplete, but it’s certainly not boring. It’s not exactly divine, but it’s comedy, with a strong personality at its heart.

Alan Knoll
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting An Act of God at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until December 16, 2018

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Raging Skillet
by Jacques Lamarre
Directed by Lee Anne Matthews
New Jewish Theatre
October 4, 2018

Kathleen Sitzer, Sarajane Alverson, Erin Renée Roberts
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

Raging Skillet is the first show I’ve attended where the ushers handed out napkins along with the programs. That’s fitting for a show like this that has the look and feel of a television cooking show. The first show of New Jewish Theatre’s 22nd season and the first season for new Artistic Director Edward Coffield, this is a show that blends story, biography, and immersive elements to create an entertaining and fascinating look at a real life celebrity chef with a penchant for the dramatic in cooking as well as in life.

The setting here genuinely makes the play look like one of those cable cooking shows, where a celebrity chef cooks, tells stories, and is cheered on by an enthusiastic audience. Here, center stage is taken by Chef Rossi (Sarajane Alverson), a caterer with an adventurous and rebellious attitude toward her profession. Rossi is a real person, and she was actually in attendance on opening night, sitting in my row a few seats over from me. Her presence added another “meta” element to this production for me, witnessing a chef watching someone else embodying her story before the audience. The premise is that we, the audience, are attending the launch of Rossi’s book, also called Raging Skillet, which is the name of her catering company. She’s supported by her DJ and sous chef Skillit (Erin Renée Roberts) as she leads a high-energy, interactive presentation supported by the “Rossi Posse” who hand out samples of her culinary creations to the audience as Rossi cooks. Things don’t go exactly to plan, however, as Rossi soon discovers when her mother (Kathleen Sitzer) shows up unannounced with stories of her own. This is especially vexing for Rossi, since her Mom died 25 years previously. So, the Mom figure is a ghost or a memory or projection of Rossi’s subconscious, or some combination of those elements, and as Rossi tells her life story, Mom interrupts a lot, to Rossi’s increased annoyance. The show uses this device to explore various issues in Rossi’s life and what made her who she is today, including her relationship with her mother, her Jewish heritage, her identity as a lesbian, and her unconventional approach to life and her job. It’s not a long show–just over an hour with no intermission, and it’s fast-paced with a lot of humor and some poignant moments as well, especially involving Rossi’s coming to terms with her memories of her mother.

All three members of the cast are excellent, led by Alverson’s brash, confrontational, snarky, and occasionally vulnerable Rossi. Roberts as Skillit plays various roles in the story as needed, including several co-workers of Rossi’s over the years, Rossi’s first girlfriend, and Rossi’s father, and she’s excellent in all of them, especially in her main role, serving as a support and occasional conscience for Rossi. It’s also great to see Sitzer, who retired earlier this year as Artistic Director of NJT, in what almost seems to be a tailor-made role as Rossi’s eccentric, overprotective Mom. Her scenes with Alverson are the highlight of the production, bringing a lot of laughs as well as some more serious moments.

The production design takes the audience into a studio kitchen where Rossi is at work. Dunsi Dai’s detailed set looks like it could be from one of those aforementioned TV cooking shows. There’s also excellent use of sound and projections by Michael Perkins that add a lot to the overall experience and emotion of the show. Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes are ideally suited to the characters, and Michael Sullivan’s lighting suits the “studio kitchen” setting well. This is a play that takes the audience into Rossi’s memories as well as literally into her kitchen, and the production values reflect that suggestion well.

There are moments of this show where it threatens to come across as an infomercial promoting Rossi’s book, which actually is on sale in the lobby after the show. There is an air of promotion about it, but the story and the characters remain the main focus. It’s a funny, whimsical, occasionally poignant and more than occasionally thought-provoking. It’s a great start to a new season and a new era for New Jewish theatre. And the food is good, too!

Sarajane Alverson
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish theatre is presenting Raging Skillet at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until October 21, 2018.

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Life Sucks
by Aaron Posner, adapted from Anton Chekhov
Directed by Edward Coffield
New Jewish Theatre
May 23, 2018

Jan Meyer, Christopher Harris, Jeff Cummings
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

Life Sucks is the title of New Jewish Theatre’s latest production. It’s also the most uttered line in the play. It’s a phrase that inspires much pondering, arguing, and philosophizing among the characters in playwright Aaron Posner’s re-imagined, modernized version of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. As staged at NJT, it also provides an excellent showcase for some excellent local performers.

The story here is essentially a fourth-wall breaking, sort of but not always linear version of the Uncle Vanya story, but with more of an emphasis on broad comedy with focus on the characters’ internal conflicts more than on the actual plot. In fact, at least one key plot point of Chekhov’s Vanya is essentially treated as a throwaway element in this play. Here, the characters talk to the audience and try to work out their various existential crises. The characters are also modified to varying degrees from Chekhov, with some having different names. It’s essentially a series of vignettes and confrontations, with occasional moments of the whole cast assembling to speak to the audience or to a particular character. Sonia (Katy Keating) outlines the relationships. Vanya (Christopher Harris) is her uncle, and Babs (Jan Meyer) is sort of her aunt, and the three live together in what was Sonia’s mother’s house. Sonia’s father, The Professor (Greg Johnston) is an aging, self-important academic who rarely visits and is insecure in his relationship to his third wife, Ella (Julie Layton). Ella, for her part, is boggled by the fact that almost everyone in the play seems to be in love with her, especially Vanya and his old friend Dr. Aster (Jeff Cummings), with whom Sonia has long been enamored. There’s also Pickles (Michelle Hand), another sort-of aunt who still grieves a long-ended relationship and also is attracted to Ella. The framework plot of Uncle Vanya is here, but its the characters and their views of life, relationships, and their own personal crises that take precedence here, and although there are some poignant moments, it’s essentially a comedy.

The script is engaging, with emphasis on character relationships, fantastical elements, witty dialogue, and a lot of contempory pop culture references.  It’s an intriguing take on the source material, and since character is key here, the casting is also important. All six players here are strong, embodying the archtypes of their characters well. Keating is an especially relatable Sonia, and her relationship with Harris’s emotionally effusive Vanya is especially poignant. The structure of the script is such that all the characters are given moments to shine, from Layton’s excellent reflection on what it’s like to be pursued and idealized by so many people, to Johnston’s reflections on aging, to Hand’s yearning for people to see past her quirks, and more. Cummings, as the amiable but somewhat aimless Aster, and Mayer as the more world-wise Babs are also excellent. The sense of cohesive ensemble chemistry, in fact, is a real highlight of this production.

The production values here are nothing short of stunning. Peter and Margery Spack’s set is colorful, detailed, and whimsical, representing Sonia’s house and backyard in a literal way but also with some more fantastical touches. The costumes, by Michele Friedman Siler, suit the characters well. There’s also excellant evocative, atmospheric lighting by Maureen Berry. Overall, the play seems to take place at once in the “real world” of the characters but also at the same time in their heads and in an “out of time” space, and all the technical elements here help to set and maintain that effect, augmenting the strong performances of the cast.

The questions raised in Life Sucks are ones with which many audience members will relate–questions of identity, relationship, and purpose in life. It’s a clever, sometimes a little pretentious but still witty and entertaining piece with some truly wonderful performances. It’s a memorable way to close out New Jewish Theatre’s 21st season.

Katy Keating, Jeff Cummings, Jan Meyer, Christopher Harris, Greg Johnston, Julie Layton, Michelle Hand
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre is presenting Life Sucks at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until June 10, 2018.

 

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New Jerusalem:
The Interrogation of Barch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation
Amsterdam, July 27, 1656
by David Ives
Directed by Tim Ocel
New Jewish Theatre
April 21, 2018

Jim Butz, Greg Johnston, Rob Riordan, John Flack
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre’s latest production is a thought-provoking, surprisingly timely one, considering it’s 17th Century setting. It’s also something of a departure for the playwright, at least from my own experience of his work. Still, it’s an intriguing, extremely well-scripted play that raises a lot of questions and boasts a particularly excellent cast.

David Ives is known for witty, intelligent and somewhat outrageous comedies–mostly, but not all adapted from plays by 18th and 19th Century playwrights, although sometimes he has veered into darker subject matter as in Venus In Fur. I’ve seen several of his plays in production in St. Louis and have greatly enjoyed them. This play is different, though, in tone as well as subject matter, from most other Ives plays I have seen. While New Jerusalem certainly has its witty moments, it’s more of a straightforward drama than anything I’ve seen by this playwright before. It is set in the past, though, and shines the light on an important figure in philosophy, and on a pivotal moment in his life. Baruch de Spinoza (Rob Riordan), known to his friends as “Bento”, is an active member of his synagogue in Amsterdam, although the local authorities have been unhappy with some of the philosphies he has been lately espousing. Viewing this as a disruption to society, city official Abraham van Valkenburgh (Jim Butz) brings charges against Spinoza and demands that his congregation leaders, Gaspar Rodrigues Ben Israel (Greg Johnston) and Rabbi Saul Levi Mortera (John Flack), do something about Spinoza’s troublemaking philosophies. More specifically, he seeks to have Spinoza excommunicated from the congregation. Mortera and Ben Israel, who have known Spinoza for years and view him as a beloved friend, are initially supportive of Spinoza, but as other accusers and witnesses are brought forward, including Van Valkenburgh’s nephew, Simon de Vries (Will Bonfiglio), who has been a close friend of Spinoza’s but has been secretly spying on him. There’s also Spinoza’s half-sister, Rebekah (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), who has her own reasons for accusing and disliking her half-brother; and the daughter of Spinoza’s landlord, Clara van den Enden (Karlie Pinder), who has a semi-romantic attachment to Spinoza despite their religious differences (she is a Christian). Through the course of the play, Spinoza boldly, unapologetically defends his beliefs but deals with the emotional consequences of the conflict with his friends and accusers. He also challenges the system that seems to subordinate the Jewish community in Amsterdam and favor the Christian church, as well as the concept of religious influence on government, and government’s role in dictating what a person believes and the expression of those beliefs. The play also expertly portrays the interpersonal and emotional conflicts and sometimes divided loyalties between the characters.

The casting here is impeecable, led by Riordian in a dynamic, impressive performance as the witty, stubborn, and concientious Spinoza. His presence and chemistry with the rest of the cast are excellent, and he makes an ideal central figure in this production. There’s also strong work from Butz as the intractable van Valkenburgh; Flack as Spinoza’s increasingly disillusioned mentor, Rabbi Mortera; Bonfiglio as the conflicted Simon; and Theby-Quinn as the confrontational Rebekah. Johnston as Ben Israel and Pinder as Clara are excellent, as well. The various conflicts and issues are humanized very well in this play, represented by these very well-drawn and expertly portrayed characters.

Technically, this play is strong as well, as is usual for New Jewish Theatre. Director Tim Ocel has staged the play in the round, with Peter and Margery Spack’s set representing a “dock” or “ring” of sorts, as the audience is included as spectators to the trial. There’s also effective lighting by John Ontiveros. The costumes by Michele Friedman Spiler are suitably detailed, as are Margery Spack’s props. There’s a strong evocation of time and place in this play, putting the audience right into the story in an effective way.

Unfortunately, due to travel, I was unable to attend New Jerusalem until the night before it closed, so there aren’t any more chances to see it. I was glad to be able to catch it, however.  It’s a thoroughly compelling play, raising issues that are particularly relevant in today’s political climate, and the performances are especially memorable. It’s another top-notch production from New Jewish Theatre.

John Flack, Rob Riordan
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

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The How and the Why
by Sarah Treem
Directed by Nancy Bell
New Jewish Theatre
January 25, 2018

Sophia Brown, Amy Loui Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

The How and the Why, the newest production from the New Jewish Theatre, is a story about relationships, about science, and about women. A one-act, two-woman show, Sarah Treem’s play is a strong showcase for two excellent local performers. It’s also an in-depth look at life through the eyes of two women at different stages of life who are inextricably tied to one another in more ways than one.

As the story begins, award-winning evolutionary biologist Zelda Kahn (Amy Loui) sits in her office, alone, but she’s not alone for long. Soon, young graduate student Rachel Hardeman (Sophia Brown) arrives, and it appears that this may be a student-teacher meeting, but it’s more than that, as is evidenced by the obvious mixture of curiosity and awkwardness upon their initial meeting. Rachel has submitted a paper for presentation at a major conference of which Zelda is on the board, but that’s just the beginning. Through the course of the production, the two women gradually get to know one another, and we the audience learn about them in the process. That’s the basic premise, but a lot of ground is covered here in terms of establishing this relationship and revealing the differences and similarities between these two women at two different stages of their lives and careers. The playwright does a good job of making this situation credible, even though some of the plot may seem implausible. The play covers issues of science, family relationships, love and romance, dependence and independence, personal and professional priorities, goals and compromises, and more. It’s a somewhat sweeping range of subject matter made personal through these two well-drawn characters and their building relationship.

The characters are the story here, in a major sense, so ideal casting is essential. The performers here are both remarkable, not only convincing as individuals but also believably conveying an initially awkward but obviously important, growing relationship as these two women try to figure out how to relate to each other, as well as working out important choices in their own lives. Loui convinces as the older, sometimes wiser but sometimes regretful Zelda, projecting an air of confidence along with a real sense of vulnerability. She is well-matched by Brown, who gives a determined, earnest, occasionally angry and equally vulnerable portrayal of Rachel. This is a compelling story, but it’s made all the more real by the sensitive, strong performances of its leads.

Technically, the show is also impressive. Peter and Margery Spack’s two-sided set represents Zelda’s well-appointed office and then, later, a turntable revolves to reveal an equally detailed dive bar set. The whole set is also surrounded by representations of planets, shimmering and illuminated by Michael Sullivan’s excellent lighting. The costumes by Felia Davenport suit the characters appropriately, as well.

This production is notable in that it’s so focused on women. The playwright, the stars, the director and several of the designers are women, and a major focus of the story is the experience of what it’s like to be a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, examining issues of science that are particularly centered around women. It’s also about an intriguing, thoroughly believable relationship, and as the title suggests, the “hows” and “whys” of life. It’s a fascinating story, thoughtfully staged at New Jewish Theatre.

Amy Loui, Sophia Brown Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre is presenting The How and The Why the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until February 11, 2018

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A Jewish Joke
by Phil Johnson and Marni Freedman
Directed by David Ellenstein
New Jewish Theatre
December 2, 2017

Phil Johnson
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre’s latest production, A Jewish Joke, is advertised with the tagline “A Drama About Comedy”. A one-man show starring one of the show’s playwrights, Phil Johnson, it’s a compelling drama. Looking at an important historical subject through the very personal lens of one comedy writer’s perspective, this show has an important story to tell, and for the most part, it tells it well.

The show takes place in the office of LA-based comedy writer Bernie Lutz (Johnson), who is getting ready for a the star-studded premiere of a new movie he’s written with his writing partner, Morris. Bernie and Morris have been on a roll of impending success lately, working on scripts for NBC as well as movies for stars Danny Kaye and the Marx Brothers. Bernie tells us stories about how he got into show business and about how he met Morris, as well as stories about his wife, Ellie, and various other writers including one he refers to as “Jimmy the Nice Guy”. He also talks about, and demonstrates with his jokes, the Jewish influence on American comedy writing. The atmosphere in Hollywood is hopeful for Bernie, but also somewhat tense, as suspicions abound concerning associations–either real or perceived–with the Communist party and related political movements. It’s the height of the “Red Scare” era of history, and merely being implicated as having Communist leanings is enough to ruin a career. In the midst of Bernie’s stories and jokes that he reads off of cards from a file box, we find out through a series of telephone calls that Bernie’s and Morris’s names have turned up on a list of suspected Communist sympathizers, which quickly puts their upcoming projects, including the glitzy premiere, in jeopardy. Through a series of phone calls and stories, we learn more and more of Bernie’s situation, and Morris’s, and the difficult and scary dilemma with which Bernie is confronted.

The show is presented well, with good production values and direction from David Ellenstein, costumes by Peter Herman, lighting by Nathan Schroeder, props by Laura Skroska, sound by Matt Lescault-Wood, and an engaging  performance from Johnson as Bernie. Mostly, this play functions as a personalized form of something many watching will only have read about. It’s a topic that still resonates today in several ways, but essentially as presented here, this is an intriguing period piece.

One-person shows depend so much on their central performance, and also a script that fleshes out the off-stage characters in a way that makes the audience “see” them even when they don’t actually appear. The biggest issue with this story is that I don’t feel satisfied hearing about these people solely from Bernie. The structure of the show revolves so much around telephone calls that a lot of the time is spent just waiting for the next one as Bernie rattles off more jokes, some of which are funny and some of which fall flat (maybe because I’ve heard them before). Johnson gives a fine, if sometimes overly flustered, performance as Bernie, but I kept wanting to see more characters than just him. I especially wanted to see his writing partner, Morris, make an appearance. In one way, that’s a good thing since the characters and situations are so well-defined by the script, but in another I’m not so sure because in a one-person show, the lead actor should be able to carry the stage without having the audience wish for more characters to appear.

A Jewish Joke tells a story that’s important not to forget. It anchors that story around its key central performance, and for the most part, that works, although I do find myself wondering if perhaps a different actor could make this story even more compelling. Still, Johnson introduces us to Bernie and makes this story personal in a convincing way. There’s only one more weekend to see it, and it’s worth checking out.

Phil Johnson
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting A Jewish Joke at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until December 10, 2017.

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