Posts Tagged ‘old jews telling jokes’

Old Jews Telling Jokes
Created by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent
Directed by Edward Coffield
New Jewish Theatre
May 8, 2014

Johanna Elkanah-Hale, Bobby Miller, Craig Neumann, Dave Cooperstein, Stellie Siteman Photo by John Lamb New Jewish Theatre

Johanna Elkanah-Hale, Bobby Miller, Craig Neuman, Dave Cooperstein, Stellie Siteman
Photo by John Lamb
New Jewish Theatre

Comedy is at the forefront in the final show of New Jewish Theatre’s 2013-2014 season, Old Jews Telling Jokes.  The title of the show tells you what to expect, for the most part. I wouldn’t classify most of these performers as “old”, but I suppose Jews of Various Ages Telling Jokes isn’t quite as catchy.  Still, in the hands of the great five-person cast of this show that’s more of a revue than a play, this production is exactly what it promises to be: very, very funny.

Although this production doesn’t really have a plot, it does have a structure. Celebrating the long tradition of humor in Jewish culture in America, the players present a series of sketches, songs and stories focusing on various aspects of Jewish life, from birth to childhood, to dating, romance, sex and marriage, to religion, Jewish holidays, parenthood, old age, and death.  The jokes themselves range from sweet to snarky to mildly suggestive to downright raunchy, with a few songs thrown in for good measure. This onslaught of rapid-fire humor is occasionally punctuated by a series of monologues as each cast member relates a particular character’s experiences emphasizing the importance of jokes in their lives, whether its enjoying watching great Jewish comedians on TV, to bonding with non-Jewish friends over a mutual love of the old jokes, to passing on the traditional jokes to future generations and maintaining the connection with past ones, to using humor to succeed in the business world, and even using it as a way of comfort in tragic circumstances. Humor served as a way of both reaffirming Jewish cultural identity and as a way of uniting with the rest of American culture, and every aspect of life is covered here by the energetic and amiable cast.

The ensemble here is well-chosen, filling the various roles with style and wit. The marvelous Bobby Miller is hilarious in the cantankerous, gravelly-voiced, wisecracking “old man” roles, playing everything from a matter-of-fact rabbi to an exasperated retired businessman and father (in one of the more shocking moments in the show).  In addition to the scene-stealing Miller, Stellie Siteman brings a sharp wit to various characters including the older mother and wife roles, Craig Neuman and Dave Cooperstein play varying “everyman” roles to hilarious effect, and Johanna Elkanah-Hale brings a bubbly, infectious energy to her roles, mostly in the daughter and younger wife and mother roles.  It’s a very cohesive, likable ensemble, bringing much infectious humor to jokes from the benign (school humor, overprotective mothers, etc.) to more edgy material (including a hilarious joke involving a pickle slicer) and song-and-dance numbers such as introduction and a salute to Jewish holidays in America, singing about celebrating Hannukah in Santa Monica.

The colorful set and projections by Peter and Margery Spack add a lot to the overall whimsical atmosphere, as well. The projections even begin before the show, displaying various jokes to set the mood and tone. I’m always impressed by the technical quality of NJT productions, and this one is no exception.  The usual arrangement of the performance space has also been rearranged here to more of a traditional proscenium format to emphasize the old-time Vaudeville-style revue structure of the show, and this arrangement serves the production well.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the jokes, because that would spoil the fun.  I will say, though, that there are quite a few jokes here that I’ve heard before, along with less familiar material, and they’re delivered at a brisk pace. There are so many jokes that if you don’t laugh at one, there’s bound to be another soon after that will have you rocking in your seat with laughter.  Much of the humor relates specifically to Jewish culture, and while I imagine that Jewish audience members in particular will find a lot here with which to relate, one of the main points of this production is that humor can be both specific and universal. Whether you’re Jewish or not, and whether you’re old, young or somewhere in between, there’s a lot to laugh about in this extremely entertaining celebration of humor in its various forms.

Dave Cooperstein, Craig Neuman, Bobby Miller Photo by John Lamb New Jewish Theatre

Dave Cooperstein, Craig Neuman, Bobby Miller
Photo by John Lamb
New Jewish Theatre




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