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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
OLD JEWS TELLING JOKES
at Westside Theatre

YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE
By JOANNE KAUFMAN

  Lenny Wolpe, Bill Army and Todd Susman/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Bill Army, one of the five performers in the very slender revue Old Jews Telling Jokes – think "Love, Loss and What I Schnorred" – had barely begun the setup for a yuk about a talking dog when a middle-aged blond woman in the front row began gesturing and crying out with excitement and delight, "oh, tell it, tell it. I know that one. I love that joke."
 
Yes, well, I knew the chatty canine joke, too, and the one before it and the one after it, actually, pretty much the evening’s entire slate of material. In fact, I frequently found myself mouthing the punch line along with the appealing, hard-working actors. (The cast includes Marilyn Sokol, Lenny Wolpe, Todd Susman and Audrey Lynn Weston.) I certainly hope this doesn’t mean I’m an old Jew. I am going to choose to believe it means those were really, really old jokes.
 
Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your point of view. There are those – I’m among them – who can hear the same songs by Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Lerner and Loewe, Loesser, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and be enchanted afresh each time. Perhaps there are people who feel similarly toward the story about the castaway who built two synagogues on a desert island; the fellow who spent 60 years praying at the Wailing Wall; the man who, for the sake of a $50 payoff, decided to convert from Judaism to Catholicism; and the man who comes home to find his best friend in bed with his wife. Sorry, I’m just not buying.
 
There are lots of ways to do “Blue Skies” or “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “If I Were a Bell.” There are only so many ways to tell the joke about the poor soul who with only hours to live wants a piece of his wife’s delicious date bread. “Sorry,” the prospective widow says. “I’m saving it for the Shiva.” Ba Dum.
 
Old Jews Telling Jokes, which was created by Peter Gethers, an editor at Random House and Dan Okrent, an author and the first public editor of The New York Times, is divided into several sections – childhood; doctors; sex after marriage; and sex way, way after marriage among them – with a few musical interludes including Tom Lehrer’s always welcome “Hanukkah in Santa Monica.” (But how could they leave out “Jews Don’t Camp”?) A screen behind the performers displays some amusing graphics as well as footage of a durable old Alan King comedy routine. Interspersed through the 80-minute show, presumably to break up the barrage of jukes, is a series of teachable moment dialogues about the importance of jokes and laughter. They feel equal parts forced and earnest.

 


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