Ethnic Theater - Jewish
"Jackie Mason--the Ultimate Jew"
New World Stages, Manhattan
Jackie’s back in town…and we don’t mean Mac the Knife. It’s Jackie Mason, the ex-rabbi of acerbic tongue and sharp commentary. Its Jackie’s positively, absolutely last stage appearance….or so he says. But if Jackie’s going out of business, you’d hardly know it at the off-Broadway New World Stages, where he currently holds forth as “Jackie Mason—the Ultimate Jew.”
We’ve watched his shows over the years, first with glee, as he skewered every politico and every ethnic group (especially our own people). But as his harangues grew angrier, more mean-spirited, and, simultaneously, less funny, we mourned for the Jackie we once knew and abandoned him.
But now, Jackie’s back—a newer, gentler Jackie, but hilarious all over again—and he’s recaptured our hearts. A little balder, a little paunchier, but the same energy, the same comic spastic movements, the same excellent mimicry. The main target of his commentary is our modern, high-tech society and its paradoxes. And targets, once again, are the Jews—with a few asides for the Gentiles, as well as East Indians and the presidential candidates. Every sharp, critical comment aimed at one’s fellow Jews brought roars of recognition from the responsive audience.
In fact this audience loved him. The buses had arrived, bringing them in (we suspect) from every JCC, synagogue, temple, senior center in the Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut). The ladies emerged from the buses and worked their way slowly down the aisles, some with walkers and canes, but elaborately dressed and coifed. (Men, too, joined the fun, but in lesser numbers.) They were ready for Jackie, and he for them.
The non-stop Jackie-isms (as best we captured them), involved the current emphasis on status—the reason for distant vacations to inaccessible islands (“if it was an island off Newark, you think any Jew would go there?”), the reason Jews visit European churches when they’d never step into one in this country, the reason for owning a computer but never using it….High-priced restaurants and high-priced cars are also noted as status symbols. And the opera, where “you see two Gentiles screaming and 2000 Jews—shlauf!” (asleep). “They should take out the chairs and put in beds,” he suggests. Technology itself came in for a blast—it takes forever to make a flight reservation—with a detour by way of the computer but ending up on the phone. The phone itself then involves punching numerous numbers and never getting through to a live person.
But the show’s highlight, which closes his first act, is his take on Indian doctors. “There are always Indians driving taxis,” he says, “but an hour later they’re doctors….Used to be, every doctor was a Jew. Now the doctors are Indians and the patients are Jews.” Jackie follows this up with an Indian doctor prescribing treatment to a Jewish patient. All directions, warnings, prescriptions are carried out in letter-perfect Anglo/Indian chatter—with only one word in ten understandable.
But this merely suggests the Jackie Mason magic. He must be seen and heard to be appreciated. And there’s still time to do just that until May 25 in this positively, absolutely final New York engagement.
-- Irene Backalenick
Apr. 10, 2008