New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"Spaghetti & Matzo Balls"
Triad Theatre, Manhattan

Is there a growing trend that focuses on Italian-Jewish shows? First we have, “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy,” a highly successful off-Broadway one-man show. And now, on the boards, a new one-woman off-Broadway piece called “Spaghetti & Matzo Balls.” Trend or isolated cases, we take it as a hopeful sign of progress, of globalization. Soon we’ll be one cross-cultural, multi-ethnic world.

And of course “Spaghetti & Matzo Balls” continues the genre of one-person shows. This, as we know, is a way to keep actors at work. No need to wait for casting calls. Just think about your own background, your own--more or less--amusing stories, sprinkle in a few songs, and voila!

“Spaghetti & Matzo Balls” is a mediocre example of the genre. There’s a lot more wrong with this show than merely the misspelling of “matzoh.” Granted that Rena Strober is a fetching young woman, with a virtuosic command of the music. With her lovely, well-trained voice, she can turn to many styles—from pop to opera. When Strober sings, whether it is the Italian anthem, a love ballad, or “Havanagila,” she is captivating.

But Strober insists upon throwing in her life story, which she (but not the rest of us) finds fascinating. She had sung regularly at the famed restaurant Rao’s, which Zagat’s describes in this fashion: “Unless you’re connected to the Governor or the Godfather, fuhgeddabout…” getting a reservation. In any event, Strober sang there until some one was shot and she dove under the table. She would later move on to the noted Friar’s Club in Manhattan, following a road tour of “Les Miserables.” On tour, she would discover her Jewish connections, attending synagogue in whatever town the company landed, and finding warm Jewish hospitality everywhere. And in between, Strober turns to a stale, overworked theme--dwelling on her grandmother’s fierce attempts to find her a match.

One can see why Strober has had a successful show biz career. This is a nice Jewish girl who has made it in a big way—and deservedly so. But if she must do a show of her own, she should focus on music—strictly a recital—and not indulge in tiresome biographical patter.

-- Irene Backalenick
October 19, 2007

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