Ethnic Theater - Jewish
Westside Theatre, Manhattan
"Jewtopia," now playing at the Westside Theater in Manhattan, is a light-hearted little romp which takes swipes at our own tribe and manages, at times, to be quite funny. The audience the night we attended (all-Jewish, we suspect) took it in stride, enjoying jokes at their expense, even when the jokes were raunchy and downright vulgar.
The two young co-authors Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson have brought this show in from Los Angeles, where it has enjoyed a long run. They also perform, but, as actors, are somewhat amateurish. They are outclassed by others in the cast-professionals who know what they're about. In particular, there is the excellent comedienne Cheryl David, as well as the able Gerry Vichi, and the very fetching Irina Pantaeva.
Much of the material is predictable and old hat-Jewish men who are hypochondriacs, Jewish mothers who lay guilt trips on their children, overdressed women who parade about in clothes NOT bought retail. And on and on.
But the plot, which, silly though it is, does have innovative twists-and an unexpected ending. Fogel plays Chris O'Connell, a Gentile who longs for a Jewish girl friend, so that he'll "never have to make another decision for the rest of his life." Chris persuades his friend Adam (played by Wolfson) to pass him off as Jewish-and to integrate him into the Jewish world. Adam coaches him in Yiddish expressions, dresses him in a multi-pocketed jacket loaded with over-the-counter drugs, drags him to holiday celebrations. In short, he becomes the Fogel/Wolfson version of the nice Jewish boy.
Adam himself is desperate for a girl, any girl (or rather sex, any sex). But, at his mother's insistence, it must be a Jewish girl. J-date, on the internet, offers opportunities, but the search brings only disaster. How each young man finds his own true love (who may or may not be Jewish) is sufficiently entertaining to compensate for much that we are forced to endure earlier in the evening.
In short, we have a mix of humor, corn, and awkwardness, a veritable dish of cholent. Fogel and Wolfson are quick, bright, imaginative-but not as hilarious as they seem to think they are. Yet time is on their side. Let's see what the future brings as these newcomers become more seasoned and move on to other shows.
-- Irene Backalenick
Oct. 21, 2004