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Jewtopia by Bryan Fogel – Los Angeles Theater Review

 

DON'T JEW HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO DO?

 

Jewtopia - Greenway Court Theatre - photo by Ed Krieger

 

Theater Review

by Tony Frankel 

published July 29, 2010 

 

Jewtopia

now playing in Los Angeles at the Greenway Court Theatre  

open run 

 

Before Jewtopia at the Greenway Court Theatre starts, actors entered the audience and began interacting with theatergoers. I got schpilkas when one actress hovered above my seat and said (in a Brooklyn accent), “I just saved a marriage.” That’s when I knew – I felt it all the way down in my Matzo Balls – you are really going to have to lower your standards to get a kick out of this play.

 

Jewtopia - Greenway Court Theatre - photo by Ed KriegerThe play starts. Within minutes we are at a singles’ dance and a gentile brags about a Jewish girl that he adores, “I fingered her…behind the Ark.” Then an older, paunchy Jew comes into the room, stuffs a banana down his pants, and screams, “Here comes Arnie Goldmaaaaaaaan!” and exits stage left (waka-waka).

 

At this point in Jewtopia, if you don’t understand what you’re in for, then you’re a) not Jewish, b) not a reviewer, c) not willing to say anything bad about it because you just shelled out $49.50.

 

Pardon the brashness, but these producers don’t really need good reviews to bring in their target audience; spread the Red Sea, for here they come: the Red Hat clubs and non-discerning theatre party groups who, for he most part, can relate to the dysfunctional Jewish family: “Oh, my God, Myrtle, this play is talking about us!” Even with some truly funny bits, the self-deprecatory, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, Jewish jokes are what define Jewtopia: it’s a series of gags strung together by the thinnest of premises. It’s Borsht Belt without the belt. And, as it is with stand-up or comedy improv, when a joke flies, it soars; when it falls flat, it’s unbearable.

 

Jewtopia - Greenway Court Theatre - photo by Ed KriegerThe premise? Jew on this: Adam Lipschitz (Adam Korson) is looking for a gentile girl that doesn’t remind him of his mother, preferably one who will “cook, clean, and swallow” (I’m curious already, how does Adam know whether his Mom swallows or not?). Chris O’Connell (Conor Dubin) is looking for a Jewish girl as a mate so that he won’t have to make a decision ever again (but then Chris incongruently thrives on being a decision maker throughout the play). When they meet, Chris decides that he will help Adam by introducing him to the world of Jewish on-line dating (Get it..? Jewtopia!); In return, Adam teaches non-Jew Chris the ways of the Jew. This idea serves up a few great chuckles, especially when we learn how a Jew orders food at a restaurant, or at a Passover Cedar where Adam brings a Mongolian girl (Kari Lee Cartwright) home to his mother (Cheryl David). Ultimately, watching Jewtopia is like chewing on a delicious piece of Pastrami, only to pull a huge chunk of fat out of your mouth so you don’t choke.

 

Dubin and Korson are pleasant enough, and Miss David triumphs with her over-the-top Jewish mother. In fact, all of the actors are charming and hard-working – perhaps too much so – for they are left to push for laughter with a story line that lays barren of implausibility. Jewtopia is what it is, and it’s doubtful that Molly Picon or Zero Mostel themselves could make this a satisfying experience.

 

Satisfying comedy occurs when characters, no matter how screwy, are based in reality (such as The Odd Couple); common people are thrown into uncommon circumstances (Born Yesterday); or extraordinary people are thrust into an ordinary situation (The Man Who Came to Dinner). The most satisfying laughter in Jewtopia occurred when Mr. Korson’s devil costume got tangled around his shmekele – he fidgeted with his schmuck while Mr. Dubin was left to get his lines out. We howled as the two broke character and ad-libbed lines. Why? Because we have ordinary characters in an ordinary play spouting ordinary jokes in an extraordinary circumstance.

 

Jewtopia - Greenway Court Theatre - photo by Ed KriegerAs one who longs for Los Angeles theatre to reach its potential, it’s frustrating that outings like Jewtopia have such legs. Playwright/Director Bryan Fogel admits in the program that all he ever wanted to do was create something that would make people laugh and keep him from having to do something else with his life (co-author Sam Wolfson is mysteriously omitted in the bios). Seven years after Jewtopia’s premiere in L.A., with a subsequent successful run in New York, there is a Jewtopia book, Jewtopia stand-up act, and (Fogel hopes) a Jewtopia movie that he plans to direct (no doubt with financing from you Jewtopia lovers).

 

So, in the tradition of long-running shows like Tobacco Road, Mamma Mia, Oh, Calcutta!, and Katz (oops … sorry, Cats), who am I to say what audiences want? You may enjoy it, but shows which use a doltish excuse of a book to get to the next laugh don’t pull the yarmulke over my eyes – it just feels cheap. So, if people are laughing, why should they care about a cheap premise, cheap shots, and a cheap show with cheap sets? A woman who left the theatre said, “I loved it. I absolutely LOVED it!” And my belief is that she did. There is a succah born every minute.

 

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

 

photos by Ed Krieger

 

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