This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

19Aug/12

OLD JEWS TELLING JOKES

So, Reuben, Nathan, and Bunny are stuck on a desert island . . . (photo by Joan Marcus)

Westside Theatre/Downstairs
407 West 43rd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday – Sunday through February 13, $80-$95
oldjewstellingjokesonstage.com

“A man goes to see his rabbi and he says, ‘Rabbi, I think my wife is poisoning me. I don’t know what to do.’ The rabbi says, “Well, give me a chance to talk to her and I’ll get back to you.’ So the next day the rabbi calls up the man and he says, ‘Well, I had a long, long talk with your wife. Three hours at least.’ And the man says, ‘Yeah? Yeah? So what’s your advice?’ ‘Take the poison.’” That is just one of the many hysterical jokes, both familiar and not, that populate the hit comedy Old Jews Telling Jokes. Created by writer-editors Peter Gethers (The Cat Who Went to Paris) and Daniel Okrent (inventor of Rotisserie Baseball), the one-hundred-minute show is based on the website Old Jews Telling Jokes, which was developed by Sam Hoffman to give just plain folks, who must be at least sixty years old, the opportunity to tell their favorite joke. On a relatively bare stage with a hanging flat-screen monitor that announces such chronological themes as birth, childhood, marriage, and death, five characters take their turns telling such jokes as “They Made a Talking Doll of My Mother,” “Why I’m Losing Weight,” “I Hate It When He Brings Me Flowers!” and “Daddy, Where Do Babies Come From?” by themselves and in various groupings. Nothing is off-limits as old-timers Morty (Lenny Wolpe), Bunny (Marilyn Sokol), and Nathan (Todd Susman) and youngsters Reuben (Bill Army) and Debbi (Audrey Lynn Weston) take on love and sex, doctors and health, friendship and religion, often getting dirtier and raunchier than one might expect. In addition, each character has a solo spot to talk about their own life, occasionally turning serious for a moment before going back to the jokes, along with a song or two accompanied by pianist Donald Corren.

Lenny Wolpe, Bill Army, and Todd Susman don cowboy hats to share a funny tale in OLD JEWS TELLING JOKES (photo by Joam Marcus)

Wolpe displays a soft, tender side as the ersatz leader of the gang, with TV veteran Susman lending an engaging subtlety to the proceedings, a necessary balance to Sokol’s awkward overemoting, while Weston and token goy Army chime in well under Marc Bruni’s direction. Expect the cast to crack one another up several times as they tell their jokes, clearly having a load of fun themselves. One of the many great little touches includes a few chairs that are occasionally brought onstage, covered in clear plastic just as our aunt Sylvia liked it. Don’t misinterpret the title — although there is lots of Yiddish to go around and a distinct Jewish sensibility, they are not all Jewish jokes. But be prepared to do plenty of kvelling and plotzing at the Westside Theatre, ironically a former German Baptist Church that still boasts a stone in the outside wall that declares “Christus der Eckstein 1855” (Christ’s Cornerstone).

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