Cultural comedy front and center in 'Jewtopia: Live'


You want a play?

They can get it for you wholesale. ... Rimshot!

Question: Is that a timeless or a tiresome trope about the Jewish mindset?

"Is it based on stereotypes? Of course," says Bryan Fogel, star of "Jewtopia," the unabashedly titled off-Broadway hit and upcoming movie, as well as its offshoot, "Jewtopia: Live," arriving this weekend at the Suncoast.

"All comedy does that. Every comedian I can think of -- Larry David, Seinfeld, Mel Brooks, Chris Rock -- that's where the best comedy comes from, from stereotypes."

You'll find them en masse (at wholesale prices!) in "Jewtopia," which was co-written by Fogel and Sam Wolfson and has expanded into its own miniempire after a 3½-year New York run of more than 1,300 performances. With Jennifer Love Hewitt, Rita Wilson, Tom Arnold, Ivan Sergei, Wendie Malick and Jon Lovitz on the bill, the film version is in post-production. Meanwhile, "Live," a scaled down, two-man interactive adaptation co-starring Fogel and Jeremy Rishe, has been on the tour circuit and is being imported to Las Vegas by the Jewish Repertory Theatre of Nevada.

Original "Jewtopia" plot: Two pals, the gentile Chris and Jewish Adam, both want to marry Jewish women, for differing reasons. Here's your Jewish-girls-as-bossy-yentas alert: Chris wants it so he never has to make another decision in his life. Here's your Jewish tribalism alert: Adam, who has dated -- gasp! -- shiksas (non-Jewish women) just wants to please his family.

Into this bowl of Borscht Belt humor, toss in a Jewish mother with all her domineering mishegoss ("craziness" for the Yiddish-deficient), circumcision gags and Jewish daughters who won't -- what's the term? -- "put out."

Theatergoers and most critics raved. "Hilarious. ... A raucous, merciless skewering of contemporary Jewish foibles, neuroses and stereotypes," wrote Philip Brandes of the Los Angeles Times. A few did not. "In a word, oy ... a slapdash, feeble-witted comedy," wrote Charles Isherwood of The New York Times, who also called it "cheerfully vulgar."

Does that bother Fogel? Employing the Jewish cliche of answering every question with another question ... why would it bother him? "Somebody needs to be raped or killed or there has to be an incest plot or a gay love triangle for The New York Times to actually like a show," Fogel says. "But the audiences are in there laughing their asses off, having the time of their lives."

Here at the Suncoast, "Jewtopia: Live" whittles down a seven-person cast to just Fogel and Rishe, who still inhabit their characters at the beginning and end of a 90-minute show with material taken directly from the play, but spend most of their stage time in a multimedia/interactive groove, maintaining the "Jewtopia" vibe without the full plot.

"It's kind of like Billy Crystal's '700 Sundays,' " Fogel says. "There's a lot of storytelling with a mix of stand-up comedy, slides and videos, game-playing with the audience. We re-enact conversations with our mothers. At the end is a Q&A. It's the Jewish Apollo (Theater)."

So can non-Jewish audiences roll with "Jewtopia," "Live" or otherwise, as well as theatergoers from the tribe? "I was dating a Swedish girl for several years," says Fogel. (Get the smelling salts for Mamma!) "She brought her whole family to the show and they were laughing hysterically."

Have you found the nice Jewish maidel of Mamma's dreams yet, Bryan? (Again for the Yiddish deficient, "maidel" is a girl.)

"My girlfriend is not Jewish, but she's lovely," he says. "I'm not thinking about getting married at the moment. But you never know what can happen."

Together now, all Jewish mothers everywhere, in what, for the uninitiated, is a cry of absolute dismay:

"Oy gevalt!"

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

 

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