Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Jewtopia

Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson
Westside Theatre Downstairs, New York
(2007)

Production photo

New York has a whole genre of light Jewish comedies that can only survive in a city that has such a large Jewish population. At any time, four or five will be playing to appreciative audiences who recognise themselves, their families, friends and dilemmas unfolding in front of them.

Jewtopia knows its audience and since it is still going strong after over a year, clearly they love it. As you watch this satirical comedy, it soon becomes obvious that to enjoy it to the full, you need to be a young, Jewish New Yorker with at least a feel for Yiddish.

Up to the interval, the material is very strong and, though some jokes miss, often very funny. Then it hits a wall and runs out of ideas, getting increasingly desperate in its use of old clichés until an unexpected comic pay-off.

New York Judaism seems to have built up a series of stereotypes and the writers have a great deal of fun at their expense. The initial premise is clever; two 30 year olds meet for the first time since schooldays at a Jewish Singles Mixer.

Adam Lipschitz is a Jew born and bred but is his pal Chris O'Connell (neither the British playwright nor DJ) really a goy in disguise? The Irish name indicates a Catholic but Chris has the lingo and the moves that together, make him seem far more Jewish than the fast lapsing Adam.

It eventually becomes clear that Chris will do anything to pursue his love of Jewish women and works hard to cultivate opportunities with them. He studies conscientiously and even prepares bravely for circumcision, three decades later than the norm.

The pair enter a pact where Adam will train up Chris, whose faux pas cost him some great dates and, in return, the wannabe will take his Jewish friend to Jewtopia. Despite a lot of flashing lights, this perfect land turns out to be nothing more exotic than a Jewish dating website.

From there, the old stereotypes are trotted out and lampooned, often with great, if rather puerile, American Pie style humour. By this stage, Chris has restyled himself Ari Rosenberg, while Adam, using four different personae, is dating the first of 155 of Crazy Jewish Girls generated by his surfing. We see some horrific sample dates, all played with relish by Christina Delaine and learn that Chris/Ari is doing well with Alison Cohen, despite a serious grilling from her typically protective mother.

Then it all goes wrong, particularly when we attend a tedious family Passover meal where hints of racism begin to intrude and the jokes lose their earlier freshness.

Under the direction of the highly-respected John Tillinger, Jeremy Rishe and David L.Townsend work well together as Adam and Chris. Had this been a 75 minute show, the praise would have been unstinting and the recommendation strong, at least for the target audience. At two hours, it will still have great appeal but could have been so much better.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher