Who knows an old Jew who tells jokes? If you have missed out on your share of such jokes and need ninety minutes of engaging, earthy jokes then head to the Westside Theatre in New York City to see the Off-Broadway show, Old Jews Telling Jokes. The show began as a very popular web site where — you guessed it — old Jews tell jokes.
More after the jump.
As you wait for the production to begin you will be entertained by music — some Yiddish, some in English. The Yiddish rendition of Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head was a delightful prelude to the show as was a country rendition of Dreydl, Dreydl, Dreydl I Made You Out of Clay.
Created by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent, Old Jews Telling Jokes showcases five actors in a revue that pays tribute to and reinvents classic jokes. New songs composed by Adam Gwon add to the show’s fun, upbeat air. You will hear jokes about religion, assimilation, sex before marriage, after marriage (“you should live so long”) and during marriage. Most of these jokes are in the form of long involved stories, which are marvelously engaging. The actors (Bill Army, Marilyn Sokol, Todd Susman, Lenny Wolpe and Audrey Lynn Weston) sing and they will ask you to sing along as well. They deliver the material with a grace and ease that is a delight to behold.
The intimate Westside Theatre was filled with Jews, more old than young, some accompanied by grandkids. The comments from the audience members were often as funny as the jokes up on the stage. An older woman with a heavy Yiddish accent sitting behind me comments to a joke about a man who goes every day for forty years to the Wailing Wall to pray.And how do you feel about this, a local journalist asks him? “Like I’m talking to a [expletive] wall.” “Det vas good” the woman sitting behind me says to her husband, to whom she had to repeat the jokes, because he was hard of hearing.
One of the players says: there is no inappropriate moment for humor. The 90 minute show, accompanied by live piano (Donald Corren), is time well spent listening, kvelling, laughing to the often bawdy, sexy, irreverent Jewish humor that has come to be a distinctly American form of humor. From Mel Brooks to Woody Allen, from Larry David to Sarah Silverman Jews have been telling jokes about their status, their sex, and all the intimate details that make up life. “I love it, I love it. Ach — this I really love!” kvells the Yiddish accented bubby sitting behind me. And so will you.
- Westside Theatre (downstairs) 407 West 43rd Street (between 9th and 10th street)
- Telecharge.com (212) 239 – 6200
— by Lisa Grunberger
Although I saw it over 48 hours ago, The Soap Myth, playing in New York City at the Black Box Theatre, through April 22, continues to haunt me. This is the theatre of witness at its best – provocative and morally ambiguous that raises more questions than it answers. Playwright Jeff Cohen and director of the National Jewish Theatre, Arnold Mittelman’s The Soap Myth explores the claim that the Nazis made soap out of Jewish bodies.
More after the jump.
Greg Mullavey is brilliant in the role of Milton Saltzman, a Holocaust survivor who bears personal witness to the production of the alleged soap. The play explores the “inherent conflict between the eyewitness survivor memories and the evidentiary standards demanded by scholars.” It explores too what role, if any, Holocaust deniers play in this issue. To what extent ought the Holocaust deniers, who figure prominently in the play, affect Jewish museum exhibits? More than you would like to think.
“All history is speculative” says Annie Blumberg, the young journalist (played admirably by Andi Potamkin) reporting on the soap myth for a magazine. The denier, played brilliantly by Dee Pelletier (who also plays the museum director) gives a disturbing lecture, based on actual facts, delivered to a university audience, where she casts doubt on the number of victims who perished during the Shoah. “Must the Jews be greedy even in this” — referring to her claim that Jews have egregiously exaggerated the number of victims who died.
In exploring the politics of memory, The Soap Myth asks uncomfortable questions about what constitutes enough evidence to make it into a museum exhibit. When the museum gatekeepers reject Milton’s repeated requests to include the soap in their exhibit, they are effectively denying this survivor’s testimony as purely anecdotal. The dramatic struggle of The Soap Myth is Milton’s attempt to get somebody to listen to his painful story.
The Soap Myth is presented as part of the National Jewish Theatre Foundation and Holocaust Archive initiative, directed by Arnold Mittelman. Mittelman is the Former Producing Artistic Director for over two decades of the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida. Mittelman founded the National Jewish Theatre in 2007. Its mission is to celebrate the “genius, creativity and history of the Jewish people.” NJT produced the Soul of Gershwin, the Musical Journey of an American Calmer, Sholom Alechem: Laughter Through Tears with Theodore Bikel as author and actor. Future plans of the NJT include plays and musicals such as: The Rothschilds, Joseph Vass’ Words By, Mark Saltzman’s Rocket City Alabam and Hannah by John Wooten.
NJT’s latest initiative is to create the first comprehensive research and production oriented around the Holocaust Theatre Archive. According to Mittelman, the NJT is filling an unfortunate void that has occurred by the loss of many professional resident English-speaking Jewish theatres, in major cities, including New York.
It is worth a ride to NYC to see this provocative, haunting play which will have you thinking about the nature of memory and how a survivor survives these memories for a long time. The Soap Myth is not to be missed.
The Soap Myth: Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre in NYC. Click here for tickets.
- Special Holocaust Remembrance Day performances, Today, Thursday, April 19, 2012 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM
- Friday, April 20, 2012, 8:00 PM
- Saturday, April 21, 2012, 3:00 PM
- Final performance, Sunday, April 22, 2012, 3:00 PM
Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 W. 46th Street, New York, NY 10036
Ticket Price: $50-$60; $20 student rush
Ticket Information: 212-352-3101