I have to admit I went to Steve Solomon's one-man touring show "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm in Therapy," now at The Smith Center, expecting the worst. I mean, that title sounds like the start of every bad joke left over from the Borscht Belt.
But he won me over. What could I do when Solomon's written so many good one-liners and, better yet, is a comic who is able to create character?
His two-hour (with intermission) look at his eccentric family starts out dangerously with things like the word "Lebanese" getting mistaken for "lesbian" (that joke never was any good).
But then there's the likes of this:
Son (on the telephone): How's my favorite Dad?
Dad: Wonderful. Who's this?
Son: I'm in therapy once a week; when I'm with my parents, twice a week.
And how about the all-knowing shrink who advises our hero, "Perhaps life is not for everyone."
The doctor treats many patients who have multiple personalities, "and he charges Medicare for every one of them."
Solomon's summation of Jewish holidays?
"They tried to kill us. They didn't. Let's eat."
Audience members occasionally finish the performer's sentences.
Solomon says, "Two words ended my sex life."
A woman directly behind me yells out, "I do!"
Our hero nods and replies, "I do. I don't know how you knew that, ma'am."
When a young son asks his father if he's ever thought about life and death, the father replies slowly:
"Son, I'll tell you what my father told me. ... (pause, pause, pause). Never take a sleeping pill and a laxative at the same time."
How can you not like this stuff?
The value of the show, though, is its whole and not its parts.
I'm not sure if this script would work in the hands of another actor because Solomon has the ability to go beyond impersonation.
He inhabits the skin of old men, old women, children, newlyweds, wheezing coughers, gas passers. We feel as if the stage is full of people.
And you rarely catch Solomon going for the laugh.
He seems genuinely amazed at the craziness of his stories, and you feel as if he's looking back on his life for the first time. I have a feeling Solomon could easily play drama. He knows how to create truth.
Some of the enormously talented entertainer's material is, unfortunately, less than stellar.
There are too many easy yucks that are beneath him ("I'll have a tuna sandwich and a glass of prune juice." "To go?" "I hope so").
And some of his routines are structurally out of place (such as bits about the horrors of airport security and growing-old jokes).
But he and director Andrew Rogow (who holds a master of fine arts degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas) milk this genre for most of its worth.
There may still be a few drops of life left in the ole' Borscht Belt yet.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.