Corrections or additions?
These reviews by Simon Saltzman were prepared for the November 24,
2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Off Broadway’s ‘Jewtopia’
As laughter is known to be a healthy remedy for what ails you, two
Off-Broadway comedies, the very broad "Jewtopia" and the other very
Brahmin "Trying," are filling the prescription.
Former high school friends Adam and Chris bump into each other at a
Jewish singles mixer. The hitch is that Chris is Irish Catholic and
only interested in dating Jewish girls, and Adam, a non-conforming
Jew, is woefully inadequate at meeting a nice Jewish girl. "Jewtopia"
may be hardly more than a series of Borscht Belt-styled sketches
stretched into a full-length comedy, but it is occasionally hilarious
in the way it sends up cultural stereotyping. To a large extent, it
succeeds because it has chutzpah to go over the top. I suspect that
co-authors and co-stars Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson have the right
idea by bringing their farcical play to New York after its year-long
run at West Hollywood’s Coast Playhouse.
The outrageously inane plot, built on nothing more than a series of
shamelessly cliched observations about Jewish culture and traditions,
and despite an onslaught of often tasteless charades, elicits more
laughs than groans. In it, Adam Lipschitz (Wolfson) and Chris
O’Connell (Fogel) strike a bargain to help each other win the right
But why, you are wondering, does Chris want to meet a Jewish girl?
He’s decided that marrying a Jewish girl will bring him the happiness
he’s looking for. ("I’ll never have to make another decision as long
as I live.") Adam, of course, is only concerned with finding a girl
that will please his mother. Chris, who has been making a study of
Jewish girls, agrees to show Adam the ropes in Jewtopia, otherwise
known as J-Date, the Internet dating connection for Jewish singles
(It’s a real site).
There follows Adam’s various dates, from a card-playing Crown Heights
Hassidic virgin to an over-sexed club denizen named "Firetushy," all
played with relish by Jackie Tohn. Stuck in between is a visit to
Adam’s family rabbi, an antagonistic fellow played by Gerry Vichi, who
also plays Adam’s randy grandfather. But the play really gets into
gear as Adam attempts to arm Chris with all the traits that will
identify him as a Jew.
Aside from teaching him the importance of learning a few basic Jewish
expressions and the necessity of talking about one’s health problems,
Adam stresses upon Chris such essentials as not paying retail for
anything, and calling your mother on the phone every day to say "I
love you." Other yock-inducing instructions include how to make a
scene in a restaurant because you feel a draft at your table, and how
to unnerve a waiter by requesting numerous changes to the entre. But
more importantly Chris is reminded never to mention hunting during
dinner conversation or that he rented "The Passion of the Christ."
The play reaches its comedic peak with Chris realizing he is, perhaps,
the most Jewish in spirit of all at Adam’s family’s chaotic and
irreverent Passover Seder. The non-stop not-only-for-Jews silliness is
buoyed not only by a fine cast of farceurs but by the frenetic
direction of John Tillinger.
Can spunky 25 year-old secretary Sarah Schorr (Kati Brazda) hold on to
her job while standing up to the verbal slings and arrows shot at her
by cantankerous 81 year-old Judge Francis Biddle (Fritz Weaver)? After
all she’s the latest in a string of secretaries presumably deemed
unacceptable by the semi-retired judge. Playwright Joanna McClelland
Glass answers the question in her sweetly winning play "Trying" that
follows the sometimes rocky daily working relationship between the
"prairie populist" and the former U.S. attorney general under Franklin
D. Roosevelt, also noted for being the chief judge at Nuremburg
Notwithstanding Biddle’s chief characteristic at this point in his
life as that of a stiff-necked self-sufficient autocratic and
opinionated curmudgeon, Weaver takes the challenge and instills a
petulant charm into the unquestionably brilliant Biddle’s relentless
harping, criticism, and complaints.
Sensitive to Biddle’s own diagnosis of himself as living in a state
somewhere between "lucidity and senility," Brazda also beautifully
steers Sarah’s tentativeness into assertiveness over the play’s eight
month period during the 1960s. The play is also strengthened by making
Sara’s marital problems, including an unwanted pregnancy, a dramatic
catalyst to balance Biddle’s declining health and neediness.
Basically a memory play based on the author’s own experiences,
"Trying" is principally focused on how the to-the-manor-born
Philadelphian slowly warms up to and gradually learns to respect a
less privileged woman from Saskatchewan, Canada, with aspirations of
becoming a writer. The title doesn’t come out of the courtroom but
rather from the two of them "trying" to make their testy relationship
During the process, much of which is propelled by Biddle’s
condescension and argumentative nature, sections of Biddle’s dictated
letters reveal how he regrets not having made a stronger case against
the internment of Japanese in United States during World War II. His
remark "Never again will I trustthat mystic cliche `military
necessity’ caused many in the audience to applaud."
– Simon Saltzman
Jewtopia Westside Theater, 407 West 43rd Street. Tickets: $59.50.
Trying Promenade Theater, 2162 Broadway at 76th St. 212-944-9444.
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