I think it’s dangerous to assume a popular work of art is not necessarily a good work of art; critics (sometimes myself included) fall into this pit regularly, and it’s just not necessarily so. There’s a degree of hope when the majority embraces something of quality; it disproves, even if just for a moment, the notion that you have to descend to the lowest common denominator if you really want to find an audience.
I found this hope tested while watching “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy” this past weekend at Bucks County Playhouse. The production, one should note, is billed as a “special presentation,” and is not indicative of the kind of work we can expect to see from the recently reborn theater. It’s a good thing, too, because this collection of stale jokes and sitcom tropes says nothing new while repeating a series of hackneyed melting pot lines with all the warmth of a twice-reheated microwavable meal. And this past weekend was all but sold out, with this coming weekend sporting similar sales. Take of that what you will.
Author Steve Solomon penned this one-man show based on his multi-ethnic background and experiences growing up in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn. It is clear he has spent some time taking in his share of Neil Simon, as there are moments where this clearly aspires to be a sort of latter-day, single-actor “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” There’s something to be said for popularity, however; this is a show that touts having been seen by more than 450,000 people in various productions, and has spawned two sequels (one a holiday edition).
Perhaps my extensive issues with this script come from a generation gap. With the advent of “Seinfeld,” mainstream American comedy changed in the late ‘90s, and this entire production has a comedy vibe that distinctly feels less than modern. The baby boomers around me seemed to be eating it up, however, chuckling along with a gusto often found in rerun-seeded laugh tracks — and that is what this show is going for. The “difference in ethnicities” one-liners and quips are very much sourced in the timing and response of the sort of prime time comedy you would find in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
This is television writing gussied up for the stage, and we’ve gotten better from this very playhouse in recent months, as I’ve reviewed previously.
I do have to give a little credit to star Peter J. Fogel; he does an admirable job delivering material across the evening that isn’t easy to sell, mostly because we’ve heard these jokes before. But it’s not nearly enough to save this production. Demand better.
My Mother’s Jewish, My Father’s Italian, and I’m in Therapy, Bucks County Playhouse, 70 South Main Street. Through Sunday, April 21. $40-$45. www.bcptheater.org or 215-862-2121.