and I'm in Therapy!
Questionable holiday miracles have already begun this year, and just a wee bit earlier than usual. Pardon the Star Trek jargon, but it's necessary to describe some unusual activity on West 42nd Street: A rip in the time-space continuum has materialized right through the Little Shubert Theatre.
The good news is that no human lives are threatened by this distortion. The bad news is that, instead of linking us to a truly fascinating episode from our past or a glimpse at our exciting future, this spatial anomaly transports anyone daring to enter the Little Shubert to the Borscht Belt in the mid-1950s. This phenomenon, scientists now tell us, even has a name: My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish, & I'm in Therapy!
Oh, okay, it's technically a show. But given its content, who can tell? Written and performed by Steve Solomon and barely directed by John Bowab, Italian+Jewish=Therapy lives up to the promise of its title by placing the culturally conflicted Solomon in a therapist's office - the too-comfortable office set is by Ray Klausen - and letting him kvetch himself silly for 75 minutes while "waiting" for the doctor to arrive and begin his weekly session. And if laughter is the best medicine, well then... oh, skip it.
Warning flags should start flying immediately upon reading the sentence in Solomon's "Personal Note" in the Playbill, "To this day, I receive e-mail versions of my own jokes from all over the world," that you'll be hearing no end of comedy leftovers. There's nothing necessarily wrong with humor as well-traveled as a touring actor's steamer trunk. Sometimes you want your laughs to come with no untold surprises, thriving on ethnic stereotypes and one-liners that were old news even when burlesque was a baby: If Solomon never outright says "Take my ex-wife - please!", that's the level of most of his material, and under the right circumstances it can certainly still be funny.
However, presented without a singular vocal style or the kind of flawless timing that defined master practitioners like Rodney Dangerfield and Buddy Hackett, this is hard to stomach for extended periods. Mother and father hard-of-hearing, got it; castrating ex-wife, got it; old-world traditions meet new-world values, move along please. Even old jokes - or perhaps especially old jokes - have to be told in fresh ways if they're to be the slightest funny.
The smirk-inducing monotony is broken only when Solomon does impressions of his family, which are nondescript enough to inflict monotony of their own. Wise comics don't even attempt impressions unless they're master mimics, and instead find laughs in their inability to summon different personalities. But Solomon's mother sounds like any ancient Italian woman, his father like any crotchety Jewish man. And since everyone speaks only the universal language of one-liners, whatever makes them special to him never comes across the footlights.
The only one who comes alive is his Jewish grandmother, with whom he was incredibly close, and that relationship grants Italian+Jewish=Therapy its only moments of tenderness. When Solomon sits at an onstage piano to plunk out the tune he once wrote in honor of her, you feel for the only time a real emotional connection between him and her, which creates one between her and us.
But it doesn't take him long to return to the gags that, in less civilized times, would have resulted in the throwing of fruit and vegetables at the stage. With his Italian background, you'd half expect Solomon to gather up, chop, and cook the tomatoes with some oregano and use them to top a plate of pasta. Then again, that might just be wishful thinking toward a show needing several dashes more spicy sauce than it currently has.
My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish and I'm in Therapy!