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Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"Shalom Dammit"

Who knew! Could you believe it! It turns out that David Lefkowitz---best known as editor/publisher, radio host, and playwright---is also an entertainer, specifically a stand-up comic. Well, not exactly. “Shalom Dammit!” calls to mind, not the Jewish stand-up comics of the Catskill era, but the more political, more biting, commentators of another ilk. We think of Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Jackie Mason, and lately Jerry Seinfield. A fine legacy to which to aspire.

“Shalom Dammit” is now on the boards off-Broadway. And Lefkowitz himself hides behind the persona of one Rabbi Sol Solomon (the spiritual leader of the Temple Sons of Bitches in Great Neck, New York). For almost two hours, the good Rabbi, in traditional garb, hops about, sings, dances, jokes and kvetches. Often he is right on the mark.

Lefkowitz—or Solomon, if you will—has his own quirky voice and style. He goes along quietly for a few predictable words, then makes a sharp unexpected turn, leaving his audience stumbling behind. It is a highly effective technique. As to content, Lefkowitz tackles assimilation, anti-Semitism, Jewish guilt, the affluent suburbs, the Goyem, and anything pertinent to today’s American Jew. Biblical references mix happily with modern jargon. Referring to family—Reb Solomon’s family , that is—he says, “We were so poor, Joseph’s coat had only one color, and our library had only one book.”

Though strong in its opening act, the show’s Second Act takes a downward turn. For starters Lefkowitz offers his particular analysis of the Israeli-Arab conflict. There is hardly time to do justice to this, a paramount concern for us Jews, and the presentation, necessarily, tends to over-simplification. Better leave that for another time, another kind of occasion, and stick to the opening act format.

Moreover, Act Two tends to linger on too long while engaging in tiresome audience participation (a familiar ploy with solo shows). The good Rabbi gets his congregation to talk, clap, sing. and even ask questions of the Rabbi. Thus a professional show becomes a Temple gathering, a veritable Oneg Shabbat. Where were the rugelachs? Where was the tea with lemon?

Act One is, in fact, the redemption of “Shalom Dammit.” Rabbi Solomon focuses on what it is to be a Jew, with salient, at times hilarious, comments on that status. The show reaches its height when the good Rabbi goes after religion in general. “It’s all a pile of s—t,” he says, summarizing his own assessment of the numerous religions which pervade our planet, brilliantly carving up and dissecting each religion.

In fact, “Shalom Dammit!” indulges heavily in scatology (references to the lower body parts and body plumbing). S—t, in every sense, permeates the commentary. Well, why not? This is not Hollywood or Televisionland. No censors are silencing the off-Broadway shows. Still, “Shalom Dammit!” might well profit from a clean-up, literally and metaphorically. Lefkowitz has many trenchant comments to make, and he does not need bathroom humor to make it work.

But the best of Rabbi Solomon’s comments do indeed work, and we welcome him to the New York scene. Long may he preach!

--Irene Backalenick
Aug. 5, 2012

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