‘Trying’

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

girl.

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.

Top Of Page
‘Trying’

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

trials.

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

productive.

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.

212-239-6200.

Trying Promenade Theater, 2162 Broadway at 76th St. 212-944-9444.


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