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A CurtainUp Review
In 1997 two Israelis named Joseph Shapira and Alon Carmel dreamed up JDate a dot com to serve as a cyber-chadchen (matchmaker) for Jewish singles. Enough couples were brought under the chupah (Jewish wedding canopy) to expand their enterprise into an internationally traded $7.8 million dollar company called MatchNet. While Shapira and Carmel tended their cyber empire, two other guys, Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson, both underemployed wannabe Los Angeles actors, wrote and performed in a 15-minute comedy sketch about two former neighbors who meet at a Jewish singles mixer -- one wish boy and torn between a penchant for shiksahs (non-Jewish girls) and wanting to please his mother; the other an Irish-Catholic with a yen for a Jewish girls, especially one Allison Cohen.
Sam Wolfson & Bryan Fogel
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Buoyed by the response to their stand-up routine, Fogel and Wolfson decided to make it the first scene in a full-fledged comedy. Their plot: To get the Jewish guy (Adam Lipschitz played by Wolfson) married to the nice Jewish girl of his mother's dreams and to have him help his Catholic friend (Chris O'Connell played by Fogel) become Jewish enough to nab a Jewish bride. The hook to expedite the search for a girl to please Adam's mom as well as Adam, the newborn playwrightss came up with was -- right you are -- JDate. And sure enough the luck of the Israeli entrepreneurs rubbed off on the Americans. Jewtopia's reliance on silliness and every Jewish cliche in the book notwithstanding, and despite it's off-putting title, drew crowds for a full year. (Well, 99 people, plus often 19 in additional folding chairs which was all the little theater where it played could hold)
While not everyone bought into the broad as the Andreas fault line humor, the show was enough of a hit for a clutch of producers to fund its reach to New York, Miami, Boston and other strongholds of Jewish singles, their relatives and goyim (non-Jewish people) who could identify with religion-transcending relationship nightmares and dreams. The New York production couldn't have landed in a more apt home than the West Side Arts Theater where another dating show, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change has been occupying the upstairs space for years. To insure Jewtopia's long term tenancy in the downstairs theater, the producers hired John Tillinger, the director known for stepping up a play's tempo, and a new design team to gussy up the production.
Mercifully, Tillinger has lopped about half an hour from the Los Angeles production. However, he's done nothing to reign in the relentlessly broad shtik and, in fact, seems to have added some sight gags which make Chris's choking on a prune hamantashen (a Purim delicacy) play like high art comedy. Though the seven actors, all but one from the original cast, do broad with gusto (especially Cheryl David as two Jewish mothers and Jackie Tohn as various bad dates), you may have guessed that I was considerably less amused by all these newly animated (that's animated as in a cartoon) stereotypical jokes than CurtainUp 's Los Angeles critic. She's Japanese-American and I'm Jewish, so it just goes to show that you don't have to be Jewish to find Fogel and Wolfson's good-natured but inane shenanigans funny -- but neither does being Jewish guarantee that you'll find yourself chuckling out loud more than a few times.
In the interest of full disclosure: The audience at the press preview I attended wasn't nearly as divided by a hairline as voters in the upcoming election. The stone faced and very occasional chucklers were definitely outranked by those whose vociferous laughter greeted every example of stereotypically Jewish behavior (controlling Jewish women, sending back food in a restaurant, not being handy with tools, ending each of many daily calls home with "I love you"). So. . . don't be surprised if Jewtopia turns out to be another of those critic-proof winners. With enough people buying into the show's Borsht Belt humor, Fogel and Wolfson and their producers will be collecting dividends on their investment.
Current Production Notes:
An asterisk precedes all the veterans from the LA productions -- Including Irina Pantava, since she played Rachel before Jana Monji reviewed the show.
Bryan Fogel & Sam Wolfson
Directed by John Tillinger
Cast: *Bryan Fogel (Chris O'Connell), *Sam Wolfson (Adam Lipschitz), Gerry Vichi(Rabbi Schlomo), *Cheryl David (Marcy Cohen, Arlene
Lipschitz), *Jackie Tohn (bad dates, Jill, nurse, Allison), *Lorry Goldman
(Dennis Lipschitz, party guy), *Irina Pantava (Rachel).
Set Design: Patrick Fahey Costume Design Cynthia Nordstrom Lighting Design: Mike Baldassri Sound Design Kevin LacyWestside Theatre Downstairs, 407 West 43rd Street, 212/239-6200
Running Time: 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission
From 9/28/04; opening 10/21/04
Tue at 7pm; Wed - Sat at 8pm; Wed & Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm
Tickets: $52.50 - $59.50
Final NY performance 4/29/07
Review of Los Angeles production by Jana Monji
What does it take to have one of the longest running shows in Los Angeles?
Not perfection. Not serious cerebral matter. With gargantuan financial
problem that may take more than the Terminator to terminate hanging over
their heads, Los Angelenos want to laugh. And so Jewtopia
The show has an unpretentious charm. Its humor runs from inspired to plain
silly, and some of the plot machinations are all too predictable. Yet
really, who cares about that when you're laughing at people you almost know?
The two male leads (Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson) who concocted this script,
are surely laughing all the way to the bank but they seem to be having a lot
of fun onstage as well. The fun, which began on May 8, 2003 has tone on and on with the run currently booking through March 7th.
Jewtopia is the name Chris (Fogel) gives to the
dotcom that specializes in linking up Jewish singles (and that dotcom has
generously bought a two-page ad in the program). Talk about product placement!
The plot revolves around the fact that Chris
isn't Jewish. He's an Irish Catholic military brat in Jew's clothing while his
one-time childhood friend, Adam (Wolfson), is the wandering Jew -- wandering
away from tradition and family expectations but still staying connected by
Adam doesn't want to marry a Jewish woman but his friend soon convinces
him to give Jewtopia a whirl. To find the right girl Chris advises Adam to
be: the sporting Jew, the orthodox Jew, the party-hardy Jew and the artistic
This advice leads to a continuum of nightmare dates. And who hasn't had nightmare
dates, particularly in this age of Internet hook ups? You've seen these
characters before. You might have even dated their counterparts who may range from : the non-black guy or gal who wants to be black gangsta cool, the sports nut, the
dater who not so secretly despises every member of the opposite
gender, the artsy pretentious type, the too innocent and not so innocent. And so,
instead of listening to our friends' dating horror stories, we get them on stage,
without a hint of dark or dangerous reality.
Jackie Tohn is fabulously bad as Adam's various dating disasters and later,
as a non-date--his rebellious younger sister. Cheryl David as two different
mothers (the mother of Chris' intended and Adam's mother) is deliciously
nosey and domineering.
Director Andy Fickman does nothing to dampen the wild and crazy guy spirit. Thus while the show isn't particularly tightly paced, which might try one's
patience in another show, this script doesn't call for split-second
timing. Its pleasures come from the playing and mugging to the audience and that audience staying
loose enough to enjoy the laughs.
Jewtopia is clean enough for older children and lusty enough for adults; so
you can take the whole family, even the domineering Jewish mother, the
retiring Jewish father, the rebellious sister, the thunderous-voiced rabbi,
the lascivious uncle who embarrasses everyone at dinner. You may not see all these types in the audiencem but you'll see their caricatures realized
on stage without so much as a hint of vindictiveness.
As with many long-running shows, the cast has undergone some minor changes.
David replaces Lin Shaye who now is an alternate. Rachel, the plot twist
clincher at the end, is now played by Linda Shing, replacing Irina Pantaeva.
If you can't make it to Los Angeles before March, don't fret. Like many other long-running LA shows, Jewtopia may
be coming soon to a city near you. Fogel and Wolfson will be casting in
February for the Chicago production that will open this spring at the
Mercury Theatre in Lincoln Park with an indefinite run. Plans are being made
to open in Boston, Miami and New York by the end of the year.
Several other shows that went from Los Angeles to other cities. |
Naked Boys Singing which ran
from March of 1998 to July 1999 and had the nudie factor. Besides the
giggles inspired by the bare bodies, that musical show didn't take itself
seriously either although some segments displaying a poignant sweetness.
Reefer Madness, another long-playing Los Angeles show,
also directed by Fickman, was over-the-top camp, reminding us how
marijuana was once blamed for everything from delinquency to homosexuality.
LA also nourishes its comedic import; for example, Late Night Catechism is still going strong at several
Playwrights take note: Los Angelenos like laughing.
Playwrights: Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson
Director: Andy Fickman
Cast: Bryan Fogel (Chris O'Connell), Sam Wolfson (Adam Lipschitz), Alan
Charof (Rabbi Schlomo, Irving Lipschitz), Cheryl David (Marcy Cohen, Arlene
Lipschitz), Jackie Tohn (bad dates, Jill, nurse, Allison), Lorry Goldman
(Dennis Lipschitz, party guy), Linda Shing (Rachel).
Set Design: Desma Murphy
Lighting Design: Rand Ryan
Costume Design: Ann Closs-Farley
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Running dates: May 8, 2003-March 7, 2004.
Where: The Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 3 p.m. (800) 595-4849.
Reviewed by Jana J. Monji on January 16.
Extended again to 5/09/04