As an avid moviegoer, live theater takes second fiddle for me unless it’s the revival of some childhood favorite. I confess I ran to “South Pacific” and “West Side Story” once they showcased in my hometown D.C. -- my girlfriends and I used to play the records and act out the songs in our basements when we were young.
But there is always the attraction of newer creative projects that scream, “Come see me.” So it was a no-brainer to attend the Off-Broadway play “Old Jews Telling Jokes” the minute I read the title. It didn’t hurt that the play was co-written by a high school and college friend Dan Okrent, a respected magazine editor and author, a former New York Times public editor -- and creator of rotisserie baseball.
Although I admit to never having read the website that inspired the show, I did grow up with two funny Jewish fathers and plenty of family friends that were great raconteurs. Except for a couple that I learned from my fathers, I’m more a one-liner spontaneous joke teller than the person who can tell a long-winded and funny joke.
The show contains clever casting by including five actors -- Bill Army, Marilyn Sokol (a scene stealer!), Todd Susman, Audrey Lynn Weston, Lenny Wolpe -- and the balance of sexes and ages allows audience members to identify with the joy of telling jokes and not think it’s only reserved for older men. For me, seeing young actors join in the fun confirms the important tradition of a new generation learning the art of repeat-joke-telling.
And as the title does not read “Old Jewish Men Telling Jokes,” I commend the creators of the website and now the show writers for making it an equal-opportunity endeavor.
Here’s a taste of the off-color and hilarious material you will experience, courtesy of the New York Daily News' review.
>> A Russian, a Frenchman and a Jew are lost in the desert. The Russian says, “Ach, I’m tired and thirsty -- I must haf a wodka.” The Frenchman says, “Mon dieu, I am tired and zirsty, I must have ze wine.” The Jew says, “Oy, I’m tired and thoisty -- I must have diabetes.”
>> A man goes to see his rabbi. He says, “Rabbi, I think my wife is poisoning me. I don’t know what to do!” The rabbi says, “Give me a chance to talk to her and I’ll get back to you.” The next day, the rabbi calls the guy and says, “I had a long, long talk with your wife. Three hours at least.” The man says, “Yes, yes, so what’s your advice?” “Take the poison.”
>> Zipkin and Weinstein walk by a Catholic church. A big sign says, “Convert to Catholicism and Get $50.” Weinstein says, “I’m gonna do it.” He strides into the church and comes out 20 minutes later with his head bowed. Zipkin says, “So, did you get your $50?” Weinstein looks at him and says, “Is that all you people think about?”
Director Marc Bruni utilizes clever choreography, as actors move about frequently and constantly enter and join on stage right and left. The use of modern-day digital projection for titling scenes gives a contemporary feel that moves the production forward.
Now that we can stop watching election predictions and results on television -- and power has been restored to the Big Apple -- we deserve to book a ticket for a show of total laughs. I heartily recommend “Old Jews Telling Jokes.”