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posted: 10/4/2013 6:00 AM

'Old Jews' sends up marriage, aging and, of course, Jewish mothers

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  • Alex Goodrich, left, Dara Cameron, Renee Matthews, Tim Kazurinsky and Gene Weygandt nimbly move from sketch to sketch in "Old Jews Telling Jokes" at Chicago's Royal George Theatre.

      Alex Goodrich, left, Dara Cameron, Renee Matthews, Tim Kazurinsky and Gene Weygandt nimbly move from sketch to sketch in "Old Jews Telling Jokes" at Chicago's Royal George Theatre.
    courtesy of Dan Rest

  • One of Renee Matthews' comically wrought characters gets some surprising news in "Old Jews Telling Jokes" at Chicago's Royal George Theatre.

      One of Renee Matthews' comically wrought characters gets some surprising news in "Old Jews Telling Jokes" at Chicago's Royal George Theatre.
    courtesy of Dan Rest

 
By Lisa Friedman Miner
lminer@dailyherald.com

A man comes home with devastating news: He has only 10 hours to live.

His Jewish wife offers to cook him a good meal -- a roast chicken, some mashed potatoes. Instead, he says, he'd like to spend his last night making love.

"That's easy for you to say," she responds. "You don't have to get up in the morning."

Such is "Old Jews Telling Jokes," the hit off-Broadway revue by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent now at Chicago's Royal George Theatre.

The name pretty much says it all. The show features a talented cast of five presenting songs, sketches and jokes in a naughty, Yiddish-spiked sendup of dating, marriage, sex (or lack thereof), old age, business and, of course, Jewish mothers.

"Why don't Jewish mothers drink?" cast member Renee Matthews asks.

"They don't want to dull the pain."

A Jewish man (the delightful Gene Weygandt) tells how he introduced his mother to his fiancee by bringing in three women and making mom guess which was his future bride. In mere seconds, she chooses the redhead. How, he marvels, did she figure it out?

"That's the one I didn't like," she says.

"Old Jews" doesn't bother with plot, and there's barely anything to the staging. Scenery comes courtesy of a movable flat-screen monitor that projects pictures of a hospital corridor, a lone palm tree on a tiny island and even the Wailing Wall.

The few other props are minimal, but eerily on target -- like the three-piece plastic-covered couch wheeled on and offstage as needed. Just seeing it evoked memories of my grandparents' Rogers Park apartment.

Do you have to be Jewish to enjoy the show? No, but some of the humor will hit closer to home if you are. A number of the jokes, however, could easily apply to other ethnicities by changing the names. And while some stereotypes abide, the show is never mean-spirited -- just light and funny.

What makes it all work is director Marc Bruni's nimble staging and the perfect pacing of his good-natured cast. Chicago theater stalwarts Dara Cameron, Alex Goodrich, Tim Kazurinsky, Renee Matthews and Gene Weygandt are all game throughout, throwing themselves into each sketch and even delivering more poignant portraits of Jewish characters who understand the healing power of shared laughter.

And with "Old Jews," all five deliver the laughs.

Goodrich and Cameron inhibit a succession of characters with ease. Matthews delivers each of her lines with impeccable timing, and Weygandt is clearly having a blast whether singing about Hanukkah or playing put-upon husbands.

Kazurinsky makes good use of his years on Second City stages and "Saturday Night Live" as he seamlessly morphs from one character to another. His heavily accented, angst-ridden rendition of "Old Man River" -- a "goyishe song no Jew should ever sing" -- is a hoot.

The show flashes by in an instant. Its 80-minute running time means a 7:30 curtain gets you out by 9.

If you want to complain, fine. You clearly don't have to get up in the morning.

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