BWW Review: MY MOTHER IS ITALIAN, MY FATHER IS JEWISH & I'M IN THERAPY at Musical Theater Heritage
"My Mother Is Italian, My Father Is Jewish, & I'm In Therapy" is a long-running comedy show that has landed in Musical Theater Heritage's main room for a three week long run. The show is a touring version of a successful Off-Broadway production by second career comic Steve Solomon this time starring experienced comedian/actor Peter J. Fogel.
The show seems to have lost something in the translation between originator Solomon and current comic Fogel. It is hard to know which way to comment, but "Momma Mia" or "Oy Vey" accompanied by a head slap in either order seems appropriate." "Italian/Jewish/Therapy" has been successfully performed many thousands of times, but may have become a little dated.
Some of the jokes seem so archival that they may have been old when the "Dead Sea was only Sick." As a matter of fact, a version of that particular joke is "in" this show. I can imagine that some of these gags translated direct from Leonardo De Vinci's notebooks. Sorry, there is an awful temptation to start making up your own jokes.
To be fair, "Italian/Jewish/Therapy" has some funny stuff in it. It is replete with mild "G" rated potty, genital, and ethnic jokes presented in two acts as a ninety-minute-one-man show. For any actor, it is tough to be exposed like this doing comedy with no support for that long.
Steve Solomon has some skin in this game. "Italian/Jewish/Therapy" is a Borsht Belt version of his autobiography. He is evidently the New York son of a Jewish immigrant World War II veteran and his Italian Catholic war bride. Talk about a Culture Clash! Peter J. Fogel is one generation removed from all that.
After a full career as an educator and school administrator, Solomon took a flyer at comedy and scored well. Part of why this worked so well for him is because the original audience shared a lot of history with the writer and Solomon is reputed to be a talented dialectician.
I understand the mindset that produced this show. My own Moldovan, Jewish, Grandmother Lena could have been related to these people. Her own son, my late uncle, returned from the war with a French war bride of his own. Removed from that history, and recognizing that my uncle would today have passed his one hundredth birthday, the style presented would be tough for a 2019 audience to embrace fully.
Peter J. Fogel struggles mightily and displays significant talent, but a smattering of group approval or an isolated loud laugher makes the continuity hard to maintain in a place that doesn't offer an audience who largely shares Solomon's background.
Let me share a personal story that might shine light on this theatrical experience. I remember Grandma Lena's 85th birthday party. As part of the celebration at the Assisted Living Complex where she lived, an elderly Vaudevillian comedian was hired to do a set in the community room. Unfortunately, he spoke only Yiddish and the one other person in the room who understood him convulsed with laughter. The rest of us sensed the timing and heard where all the punch lines had been located. It is pretty funny looking back on it now. It was pretty funny then. Need I say more?
I have a soft spot for this genre of humor. There are many others in Kansas City audiences who will enjoy it too. Think of the resort comedian from "Dirty Dancing" or think of Howard from "The Big Bang Theory."
"My Mother Is Italian, My Father Is Jewish, & I'm In Therapy" continues at MTH Theater through November 24th. Tickets are available at the MTH website or by telephone at 816-221-6987.
Photo courtesy of LeRoy Associates