Playhouse Productions brings Old Jews Telling Jokes, a fast-paced comedy show, to Toronto
“Well,” I quipped to my date as we arrived to the Randolph Theatre to join a sparse, mid-week crowd for Old Jews Telling Jokes, “this certainly will be old Jews hearing jokes.” Which more or less encapsulated the mood of the show, overall – a somewhat schtick-y, alarmingly fast-paced series of Jewish jokes, told by some old Jews and some younger Jews to a group of people who seemed very pleased just to hear some good old-fashioned borscht-belt humor. While I was glad for them, I privately wished for more.
As it happens, I have a longish association with this project. After seeing a very early webisode of it, I emailed the creators and recommended my dad for the project. When auditions came around again, they emailed me, I sent him, and he ended up making a couple of episodes for them. What I loved about the web series was how it showcased the real heartbeat (and kishkes) of Jewish storytelling, the great and familiar natural rhythms of it. The good news: of the actors in this production, several of them lived in their pauses and throwaways so perfectly that this middle-aged Jew could have cried a little just for the joy. The bad news: this script barely allows them any time at all to do what Jewish humor has always done best.
Listen, I get it – short jokes, snappy pace, and go go go-style bits are the way of the modern world. Or so we’re told. But these actors are better than I found this script, especially the glorious Teresa Tova, who makes as much room for herself in it as she can (it’s not very much). They have plenty of timing and body english and pace and tone and whatever else is the other magical thing that makes a really good old Jewish comedian so so funny. Unfortunately, this show moved by at such a fast pace we never really get to enjoy those things very much. Why not let some of the jokes be longer? Why not let the actors ad-lib a little rather than keeping up such a frantic pace? “Laugh-a-minute” does not have to be taken so literally.
That said, Old Jews Telling Jokes has some appeal. It will appeal especially to people who haven’t heard anyone cracking jokes that start “So Nussbaum goes to his doctor…” since their Bubbie passed. Also, most likely, to people who find the entire idea of Yiddishkeit delightful and would go to Jewland at Epcot if it existed. But if you have any actual Old Jews in your life who like to crack jokes sometimes, as I do, let me tell you – if I’d paid the full ticket price to see this, I would have come away feeling frustrated that a lot of talent got squandered. You’d be better off to spend the same money on five books of Jewish jokes and lunch out with your bubbe and zayde.