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A CurtainUp Review
Old Jews Telling Jokes
By Elyse Sommer
The 90-minute intermissionless show has just enough pleasant and also time tested songs (accompanied on the piano by David Corren who also understudies Lenny Wolpe) to lay claim to being a revue. But it's not about whether it's any kind of musical or even qualifies as a genuine theater piece. Whatever the identifying genre, it's all about the jokes that have been passed from Jew to Jew, for years and presenting them with enough show biz pizazz to amuse even those who don't know a kvell from a kvetch.
As Morty (Lenny Wolpe) one of the show's "Old Jews" sings "I Could tell you tales of woe/and Tribulation/But check your ticket. This is not Love, Loss and What I Wore." Wolpe is, of course, referring to the theater's last successful tenant, Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron's adaptation of Ilene Beckerman's touching illustrated memoir.
Though much Jewish humor — for that matter, any humor—- is a way of dealing with sorrows, including disappointing marriages, illness, Old Jews Telling Jokes is too shticky to lend itself to multiple audience viewings as was the case with Love, Loss and What I Wore, and other long running hits in the Westside Theatre's Downstairs venue. And, though you don't have to be old or Jewish to "get" what's funny, if the audience at the press preview I attended is an indication, the chief and most responsive ticket buyers will be at least old enough for AARP membership. Tried and true as the jokes are, a show based on a website called — what else, Old Jews Telling Jokes — is definitely a new concept. Gethers and Okrent have also managed to work their source material into an assemblage that smartly intersperses the full-speed-ahead-to-the punchline shtick with some jokes puffed up into mini-dramedies; case in point: the saga of the infamous Drobkin fart.
To give this jokefest theatrical chops, director Marc Bruni has assembled a quintet of expert jokesters, with two young Jews (Bill Army and Audrey Lynn Weston) added to a trio of old school pros (Lenny Wolpe, Marilyn Sokol and Todd Susman) . All five are obviously having a great time, at times unable to stifle their own laughter. Bruni also enlisted David Gallo, one of the theater's most gifted scenic designers, to provide upstage projections designating the different stages of life being explored and some props to add a humorous visual commentary for the more drawn out segments.
In its more reflective moments, the show stops the yuks long enough to pay tribute to the comedians who made the television set a place of family togetherness as they watched the likes of The Three Stooges, Soupy Sales and Groucho Marx, and listened to record albums by Allan Sherman. Woody Allen, Mort Sahl abd Shelley Berman. As Todd Sussman'sNathan explains, it was a special kind of togetherness "because we were all laughing at the same thing." He admits that the shared laughs didn't keep the family from going their separate ways but sees a continuity and more widely shared laughter through his nine year old grandson whose circle of friends sharing things like YouTube videos of Japanese stand-up comics is in the thousands. As he concludes "It’s very hard to stop “funny” * from spreading like wildfire."
Towards the end of the show, a routine by one of the best of the late great comics, Alan King, is projected on screen and neatly tied in to a skit by Sokol and Wolpe. Good as they are, King manages to steal the scene.
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