Critique of the Week – Runner Up

This gal tends to bite her tongue too often in my opinion. I like it much more when that tongue is used for other purposes, such as the lashing administered here. Just one funny fuckin’ pan from Miss M.R. the Hunter.

M.R. Hunter – EyeSpyLA

Apparently, all a show needs to sell out and earn early extensions is name recognition, as in the case of director, Jason Alexander, and dated material targeted for a specific audience. Voila! Producers Danny Gold and Billy Riback should be commended on their sure-fire brand of successful packaging with “When You’re in Love, the Whole World is Jewish” that is pure bupkes.

Based on the 1965 Grammy nominated comedy album written and produced by Bob Booker and George Foster, this certain brand of humor had its day, probably in the Catskills, but the sun has set since then and this cast (beset by a pair of tin-foil menorahs) do nothing to make it current. The effect is like sitting for 90mins while watching someone flog a pony as it brays for relief. 90mins? It felt more like 3 hours as the vignettes are dished out in an all-you-can-eat buffet line of one-liners, wise cracks and creaky setups for a punchline that is as crusty as week old challah bread. One could possibly imagine this series of bad acts on a cruise line but I wouldn’t subject the poor people of the crippled Carnival Triumph to more hardship and undue grief.

Hardship and grief is something the Jewish people have endured as a people and a culture. Humor at its best can arise from the worst of circumstances. The ability to self-depreciate is laudable and at times can reveal a cutting truth underneath the superficial jest but it still requires some measure of tastefulness to be effective. Rolling out the red carpet of stereotype under the guise of cultural approbation or by reappropriating the long held myths and labels used against a people, even in the form of comedy, can have a cathartic result if it is mindful about what it is doing and how. What it shouldn’t do is make a shikse twitch and recoil in abject revulsion and astonishment as she watches in a weird Twilight Zone haze a fairly predominant Jewish audience laugh at themselves to their own detriment when the delivery is about as appealing as borscht and the production value is nil. Plight should not be confused with blight.

It’s a circus of incredulity. Setting aside political correctness, which this show has none, and if one wants to argue the finer points that it is wholesome, tongue-in-cheek wit, there is only a smidge of merit to this defense, but there has to be a counterbalance of awareness when approaching this kind of comedy that pokes fun with the delicacy of a cattle prod. The premise is a shaky introduction to the history of Judaism when a smitten man brings his Irish-Catholic girlfriend to meet a rabbi in order for her to learn more about the Jewish faith. From there, it is a laundry list of one bad setup after the other with all the finesse of bad dinner theater.

Between scene changes, lively music by Deborah Hurwitz synopsize the act – although really there is no need to sum up the obvious such as when a pair of honeymooners inquire a cranky, mature couple as to their secret for staying married. “Never go to bed angry,” they recommend followed by the admission, “We haven’t slept in 11 years.” End scene. The result is flat and amounts to so much shtick without substance. Usually the setup is trying so hard that when the moment arrives it’s a “ha” instead of a “ha-ha” or in most cases, a “ho-hum.”
As a recording, these cutesy, pa-dump comic bits have their place with the talented voices of Lou Jacobi, Betty Walker, Jack Gilford and Frank Gallop infusing the material with their own unique flair and pitch-perfect timing. This cast featuring Barry Gordon, Michael Pasternak, Ellen Ratner, Robert Shampain, Rena Strober and Jay Brain Winnick only highlight the weaknesses without bringing their own personalities to the mix. They come across as schlocky, cardboard cutouts parroting the tinny dialogue in a pandering, wink and a smile approach, self-conscious machination. They attempt to jiggle around the stage with lackluster commitment to Alexander’s stagey direction that lacks nuance and does not aspire to any cleverness or ingenuity. Two-hander scenes are succinctly staged well-enough but shuffling the ensemble around such as in a cocktail party skit proves messy, interrupting the rhythm and flow to the material.

Many a Jewish play finds humor without appealing to the lowest common denominator of baseless and tacky mirth such as “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn” and “New Eyes.” Both these shows extolled self-depreciating humor without selling themselves, their culture and their struggles short. Theatrically, Jake Ehrenreich and Yafit Josephson told a story, albeit a personal one, with heart, sensitivity and insight. This production is clearly uninterested in being anything more than a cash-cow. Bandying the word “Jewish” in the title and having a star-name attached to the vehicle should not be the minimum standard to aspire. There isn’t even a decent set that doesn’t trivialize with a pair of garish, glinting menorahs on either side of a Torah-scroll screen. About the only thing a wandering eye can appreciate are the three stained glass accented picture windows inscribed with the title of the play whenever one rolls their eyes to the rafters.

To ensure further success, the producers will have a notable guest appearance each night to perform in one of the skits where all they have to do is read a will. Norm Crosby was the star for the Sunday evening performance I attended, and much to his credit, he was the best act going. I won’t say it was worth it just to see him but it did take a lot of the sting out of the suffering. Supposedly, Michael Chiklis will lend his star-power to this star-obsessed vehicle. Frankly, these guest performers should have better things to do with their time. Will it get butts in seats? Yes. Should it keep this train wreck, travesty of fluff extending and moving to other venues? No!

Tuches in seats does not forgive this tsuris at the Greenway Court Theatre unless you’re a meshugener.

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Colin Mitchell About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.

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  1. Elyse Mandel says:

    Colin Mitchell is obviously a bitter failed writer/director/actor and everything else he claims to be in his bio. He also shouldn’t be reviewing a Jewish comedy show if he has no idea about Jewish comedy. I can’t imagine a ‘Zen-Catholic’ understanding Borscht Belt Comedy. Get another job Colin!!

    • Colin Mitchell Colin Mitchell says:

      Er, well, firstly, Elyse, I’d just like to thank you for taking the time to read our site and am delighted you found the energy to actually comment as well – I know that can be a harrowing experience for the keen of intellect such as yourself – but most of all I really want to thank you for cursing me roundly for something I didn’t even write.

      If you’ll take another look – perhaps with your reading glasses on this time – you’ll see that I was not the author of this review and so cannot take credit for the praises and denunciations it may so rightly deserve. That credit alone stands with the lovely and talented M.R. Hunter. Her name and her website EyeSpyLA you will see clearly attributed and linked to under the title of the play.

      Now this of course addresses none of your well-nuanced observations of me personally – most of which are true – but I just thought I’d offer a gentle guiding hand and give you an opportunity to refocus that rapier wit if you so desired.

      Unfortunately I cannot provide Ms. Hunter’s bio so you’ll have to do your own research in that area if you decide to reformulate your response. But since you did such a heartfelt job the first time, I’m sure the next one will be just as entertaining. Looking forward to it!