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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Estherís Moustache
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"Goddesses donít have stray black hairs only old Russian ewish women do. Jewish women are not sexy. I read that somewhere. "— Lilith
Estherís Moustache
Catherine LeFrere. Uma Incrocci, Burt Grinstead. (Photo: SuzAnne Barabas)
Throughout Laurel Ollsteinís fantastical romantic farce there is a progression of goofy, witless, tasteless incidents and disingenuous revelations, as perpetrated by the author through her three real and one imaginary characters, that led me to close to despair. On the positive side, it is wonderful to see The New Jersey Repertory Company up and running again after closing for the first week in November midway through the run of Annapurna when they were hit by super-storm Sandy. Recovering from extensive water damage, loss of power and the destruction of a small cottage used to house actors, performances of Annapurna resumed on November 15 to finish its final week to large and enthusiastic audiences. I may presume that the number of positive comments made by exiting audience members on opening night will offset my lack of enthusiasm for Estherís Moustache.

† Ostensibly Estherís Moustache is about the identity crisis of Maddie (Catherine LeFrere) a conflicted 25 year-old Jewish woman cartoonist who both authors and illustrates naughty comics and graphic novels. She has found escape from her New York familyís influence, her heritage and religious roots in California where she has created an existence through an alter ego — a cartoon character Lilith (Uma Incrocci) — in a fantasy world empowered by sex and seduction.

† The play begins with Maddie sitting at the drafting table in her one bedroom beach cottage in Venice, California (another fine scenic design by Jessica parks). She is trying to finish an overdue sketch for Raunch Magazine while behind her and within the frame of a large window is her creation, the sexy, leggy blonde goddess Lilith who slinks about in a glittering strapless red gown all the while expressing verbally the comically infused carnality of Maddieís suppressed desires.

† Obsessed with and possessed by Lilith (Uma Incrocci), Maddie takes a break and picks up a hand-mirror and to her horror thinks she sees the beginnings of a moustache on her upper lip. Maddie is distracted from her distress by the arrival on roller blades of Gerd (Burt Grinstead), a tall, hunky blonde messenger boy with a thick German accent who has been sent by the publisher to pick up her sketch. In an instant, Gerd develops a mad crush for Maddie who, despite her concern for the as yet invisible moustache, responds eagerly to his passionate overtures. Their hot and heavy romance is thrown into a tumult with the unexpected arrival of Esther (Jim Shankman), Maddieís Russian-Jewish grandmother.

† I have no explanation as to why the dour-faced Esther who, with a steamer trunk in tow, is played by a male actor other than as a sight gag. Esther, however, is no grab-bag of Yiddish gags, although her steamer contains her kosher pots and pans as well as her homemade latkes that have withstood the flight still warm and ready to eat. A widow, Esther has apparently come, despite not being invited, for a lengthy stay. Not complaining that she has to sleep on the floor, she of course hasplenty to say about Maddieís dismissal of her Jewish faith and heritage, her estrangement from her New York family, and most vociferously about the affair her granddaughter is starting under her nose with the rather personable and modestly conciliatory Herd whom she, nevertheless, views as a Nazi.

† Neither Esther or Gerd are able to see the increasingly frustrated Lilith who seems to be losing some traction with Maddie in the light of the intrusive Esther laying on the guilt and Gerd laying on the charm. The plot becomes increasingly far-fetched; make that farblondzhet, when Gerd inexplicably bonds with Esther by taking cooking classes with her. Mentored in the Jewish religion and traditions by Esther, Gerd not only invites Esther to move in with him, but is soon wearing a yarmulke, the black attire of the Orthodox, and has grown pais (side curls), blonde of course.

† Far be it from me to spoil any surprise regarding the growth and/or appearance or disappearance of moustaches as the play reaches its climactic moments. Rudimentary at best, the acting of all four participants reflects the inability of author-director Ollstein to find a cohesive contour and style for the mostly over-the-top cavorting.

† Ollstein, whose numerous credits cite her successful transition from actor to writer, as well as her time as an original member of Tim Robbinsí award winning theatre company The Actors Gang, may have some generous, humorous and heartwarming things to say about coming to terms with being a Jew, but they are not in evidence hiding behind Estherís Moustache.

Estherís Moustache
† Written and Directed by Laurel Ollstein

† Cast: Catherine LeFrere (Maddie), Uma Incrocci (Lilith), Burt Grinstead (Gerd), Jim Shankman (Esther)
† Scenic Design & Properties: Jessica Parks
† Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
† Costume Design: Patricia E. Doherty
† Sound Design: Merek Royce Press
† Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes including intermission
† New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ.
† (732) 229 Ė 3166
† $40.00; seniors $36.00; students $25.00
† Performances Thursday, Fridays at 8 PM; Saturdays at 3 PM & 8 PM & Sundays at 2 PM with selected Sundays at 7 PM.
† From 12/13/12 Opened 12/15/12 Ends 01/13/13
† Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 12/15/12
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