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MY PARENTS ARE WASPS AND I CAN'T AFFORD A SHRINK

 

Theater Review

by John Topping

published November 13, 2007

 

My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy!

now playing Off Broadway at the Westside Theater

 

A few things to consider:

(1) Since Manhattan is far too urban to have dinner theater – despite the (thankfully) short-lived trend of food-oriented theater a few seasons ago – the next best thing, as it were, might be what you would call tourist theater.  

(2) My Stage and Cinema colleague, Harvey Perr, has said (though I'm paraphrasing) that if you open a play in New York with the syllable "jew" in the title, you are all but guaranteed success, as witnessed by "Jewtopia," "25 Questions for a Jewish Mother," and other Jewish-titled Off Broadway hits.

(3) There are other shows that were funded and became successful on titles alone, even without the golden "Jew" syllable.  "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" and "Menopause – the Musical" come to mind.

Fitting the bill in all of these categories, and now beginning its second year of running, is the comedy "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm in Therapy!"  This title cleverly ropes in both Jewish and Italian audiences, not to mention people in therapy because of their parents.  And it's not a joke that the show got its first $100,000 of backing from the title alone, before a single word was written.

Those words were eventually written, and originally performed, by Steve Solomon.  Now in its second year, and having moved a block north from its original location, the poster still has a picture of Steve Solomon using the ampersand in the title of the play as a chair, but the words are now performed by Paul Kreppel.

So you're paying some money to see a comedy, the big question is:  is it funny?  Well, there's my opinion and there's the opinion of most of the rest of the theater.  Almost everyone else was roaring with laughter.  Roaring.  Not the kind of obnoxious hyena laughing described in the aforementioned Mr. Perr's review on this website of "Walmartopia" – that was the overdone laughter of friends and family of the cast and crew making belly-laugh mountains out of half-a-smile molehills for the sake of a press performance.  This was genuine laughter, from the heart.  It was a largely over-60 and largely tourist crowd.  You could spot Italians and Jews and people in therapy.  If you don't fit into any of these categories, there is one more to consider – cruise ship vacationers.  In fact, the autobiographical text, such as it is, mentions that Solomon loves performing on cruise ships.  And though I've never been on one, I felt that this must be exactly what it's like (before he mentioned cruise ships, I felt that this must be what a comedy act in the Catskills was like).

I don't mean to be a sourpuss.  My companion – a woman who only fell into the over-60 category – suggested afterwards that maybe I just don't like comedy.  (I didn't agree.  Was she being funny?)  But because she was among the roaring laughers, I smiled more than I would have otherwise, making me feel like Woody Allen in "Annie Hall" in the scene where a performer is describing the kind of act he'd like to have written for him, as Allen sits and politely plasters a faux-smile on his face.  And it's not like I never had a genuine laugh; but when one came, I felt I needed to emphasize it a bit more than was natural (although not to "Walmartopia"-imported-audience-esque lengths).  "See?  I thought that was actually funny.  That was a real laugh.  Did you hear it just then?"

I knew that this was a one-man show, but I guess part of my problem was that I was expecting to see a one-man play.  There is a beautiful set design (by Ray Klausen) of a psychiatrist's office, complete with a snippet of the Manhattan skyline out the window.  But there is no reason for the set to be there.  Ostensibly we are crammed into the office while he passes time talking to us, waiting for his therapist, Dr. Assole, to arrive.  But all of the text that relates to therapy is an afterthought.  If he hadn't gotten that funding from the funny title, and had chosen a different title instead, there would have been no therapy theme at all.  The same goes for his mother's Italian background and his father's Jewishness, although to a somewhat lesser extent.

It is basically a stand-up comedy routine, with the self-imposed Italian-Jewish-therapeutic-familial thread tacked on (and a threadbare thread it is).  And, by the way, I love stand-up comedy.  So I couldn't help but wonder if it was all context. Although by the audience's gauge, Kreppel does an admirable job telling someone else's jokes, I wondered if Solomon originally performed it better, more organically, with different timing, since, after all, it was his own writing, meant to be done by him.  And would I have laughed more, I wondered, if the set were stripped bare, and he had a hand-held microphone?  Or was the real problem that my fellow passengers were simply on a cruise to an entirely different exotic location?

 

johntopping @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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