Excuse Me, I'm Talking
Since those who compile word books also tend to collect them, my bookcase has several shelves bulging with this genre. The title of one item in my collection, Every Cliche In the Book, would have made an apt alternative for Excuse me, I'm Talking.
Annie Korzen's biographical odyssey takes her from reluctant Yenta to empowered cheerleader of "The Yenta Brigade" -- the last of five songs composed and performed during this self-absorbed saga.
Ms. Korzen, whom you might remember as Doris Klompus of the Seinfeld show, is a likeable enough performer, but she lacks the range to inhabit the 40 characters we meet. I take my count on faith from the press materials I received, but whatever the total number of characters, they all sound like the playwright-performer. In short, don't expect the sort of richly performed one-person play presented by Pamela Gien in The Syringa Tree.
As long as I'm comparing, Syringa, with a much more modest set, is a real play. Excuse Me, despite a finely detailed and attractive setting, looks like a play but is basically a throwback to a Borsht belt act.
Korzen's shortcomings at character interpretation are unfortunately matched by her composing and singing skills. As for the humor and originality of her observations, even the mostly fifty and older, Jewish audience for whom it's tailored (there are two fourth-wall breaking instances when non-Jewish audience members are asked to identify themselves) was not exactly doubled over with laughter at the performance I attended. Korzen is no Jackie Mason, as she herself makes amply clear in an anecdote about going to see Mason with her very blonde, Goyish Danish brother-in-law which takes a stab at Annie-as-Jackie.
Excuse Me I'm Talking does make its point -- that ethnic differences should be cherished and that you don't have to be Jewish to be a pushy always worried Jewish mother. True enough. Too bad that Korzen paves the road to Yenta empowerment with derivative material.
At one point of the monologue, the author-performer refers to Ruth Gruber, whose real life rescue mission of one-thousand Jewish refugees was recently made into a mini-series starring Natasha Richardson (Haven began broadcasting the same night as this show's opening). Gruber's story comes into play not because of its inspiring heroism but as an example of how Jewish stories are often cast with non-Jewish actors. While it's easy to see how this might be ironic to an actress who's missed out on more than a few screen roles, the reference makes one wish that a biodrama being a Jewish woman in America and proud of it could focus on some less stereotypical Jewish women and concerns -- women like Gruber, who even at age eighty-nine still has too many serious concerns on her mind to dwell on the heavily mined issues Annie Korzen is talking about.
EXCUSE ME, I'M TALKING
Written and performed by Annie Korzen
Directed by Judy Chaikin
Set Design: Michelle Malavet
Lighting Design: Richard Latta
Musical arrangements: Beth Ertz and Jackie O'Neill
br>Musical staging: Kathy Cass
Running Time: 2 hours, including one 10 minute intermission.
Jewish Rep at Duke Theatre on 42nd St. (7th/8th Ave) 239-6200
From 2/03/01-2/25/01; opening 2/11/01
Tues-Thurs & Sat at 8pm, Sun at 7pm. Wed, Sat & Sun at 2 pm. Tkts $40-45.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer
based on 2/08 performance