“Old Jews Telling Jokes” At NJT- Old Jokes But Not So Old Jews

The cast of "Old Jews Telling Jokes" hoofs their way through a musical interlude at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The cast of “Old Jews Telling Jokes” hoofs their way through a musical interlude at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Call it nostalgia, call it a history of Jewish humor, but mostly call it time to take off the thinking cap and just enjoy jokes- some old, some new but all very familiar. “Old Jews Telling Jokes” at New Jewish Theatre closes out their season with a little over an hour of non-stop story after story with a Jewish perspective but universal in theme. We can all laugh at ourselves- the battle of the sexes, doctors with an emphasis on hypochondria, family, vacations and every other thing that makes life tragic and funny at the same time. You’ll hear a lot of what you’ve heard in the past (some older than dirt) and a few new ones, surprises and shaggy dog stories and even a song or two.

The ensemble gets their chance to tell their own little personal snippet of what humor has meant to them along the way but mostly it’s rapid-fire joke after joke. There were a lot of guffaws, titters and even a gasp or two throughout the opening night audience. It’s definitely a show for a mature crowd as there is some blue humor along the way but this innocent looking bunch of story tellers rarely shocks because you’re having too much fun just exercising those jaw muscles.

Craig Neuman, Dave Cooperstein and Bobby Miller in the New Jewish Theatre production of "Old Jews Telling Jokes." Photo: John Lamb

Dave Cooperstein, Craig Neuman and Bobby Miller in the New Jewish Theatre production of “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” Photo: John Lamb

Leading the way is veteran performer, Bobby Miller. He’s the “old” Jew in the crowd with his over-sized glasses and beat up fishing cap as he delivers a joke in a fashion that would make Henny Youngman, Alan King and even George Burns happy. In fact, chomping on a sentimental cigar all evening long, he has just the right delivery- knowing when a pause is as good as a line and giving us the facial expressions to accompany when necessary. Displaying a less than impressive singing voice, he nonetheless manages to deliver one of the most powerful readings of “Ol’ Man River” we’ve ever seen. Craig Neuman holds forth as the unofficial MC of the evening, starting the opening number that eventually gets everyone introduced at the outset. Whether playing an “old” Jew, a hen-pecked husband or any of the other myriad characters, he is a treat.

Stellie Siteman also displays spot-on delivery and punch line after punch line scores big laughs. The “younger” of the “old” Jews include the always entertaining Johanna Elkana-Hale and the clever Dave Cooperstein. Elkana-Hale makes good use of her outstanding singing voice and just kills it with her innocent delivery of some of the bawdiest lines of the evening. Mr. Cooperstein surprises playing everything from a questionable physician to a talkative policeman to an old lady.

Craig Neuman, Stellie Siteman and Johanna Elkana-Hale breeze through one of the many bits in "Old Jews Telling Jokes" at NJT. Photo: John Lamb

Dave Cooperstein, Stellie Siteman and Johanna Elkana-Hale breeze through one of the many bits in “Old Jews Telling Jokes” at NJT. Photo: John Lamb

Director Edward Coffield has pulled together this script relying on the non-stop action knowing that you can’t rest on your laurels. A joke that kills or a joke that fails all pass by in such quick fashion that the audience is on to the next laugh before they’ve stopped to think about their last one. The series of scenes and jokes, created by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent, are successful because of this rapid fire delivery. Helping matters along is the brilliant set design of Peter and Margery Spack. Utilizing oversized TV’s, radios and other appropriate pieces, they call to mind the way mainstream America met and fell in love with the plethora of Jewish comedians over the years. There’s even a projection screen they created that keeps the audience entertained before the show with jokes and riddles popping up and then it becomes part of the scenery during the play identifying genres from birth to death and even an hilarious bit on film featuring Alan King interacting with his audience. The Nathan Schroeder light design also enhances the production and Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes are outstanding.

The Borscht Belt is alive and well at New Jewish Theatre in the guise of “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” Don’t expect an intellectual evening of riveting theatre, but just sit back, relax and go with the flow. As Gail said at evening’s end, “my mouth hurts.” That’s the kind of night you’ll have. “Old Jews Telling Jokes” plays at NJT through June 1st. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information. Also, call that number or visit newjewishtheatre.org to find out about their new 2014-15 season.

 

 

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2 Responses to ““Old Jews Telling Jokes” At NJT- Old Jokes But Not So Old Jews”

  1. Steve Marsh Says:

    Nice review! Though, I think you’ve mixed up Dave Cooperstein and Craig Neuman. Cooperstein is the one in the photo and one of the “younger” Jews. Neuman opened the show.

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