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Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings)

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - July 8, 2021

Jackie Hoffman and Kelly Kinsella
Photo by Hunter Canning
My first bona fide moment of laughter in the theater after the long, long drought occurred a couple of nights back while I was sitting in the audience at Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings), E. Dale Smith's seriocomic tribute to community theater actors everywhere, opening tonight at Nancy Manocherian's the cell In Chelsea.

That's when Jackie Hoffman, a reigning queen of chutzpah in a long line of loud and brassy Jewish comics, casually introduced us to her suburban New Jersey character by announcing, "I'm not Jewish, but I have played several." Admittedly, it's a line that does not come off as particularly funny on paper. But as deadpanned by Hoffman, it was unexpected and daft enough to evoke an appreciative round of laughs from everyone in the room.

Cleverly, it also served as a conspiratorial nod and a wink that Hoffman knew we were in on the jest and that we surely would be well prepared for the slew of theatrical in-jokes to follow, including more than a few that would reference Hoffman's own career.

We meet Hoffman's character, Ariana Russo ("I'm Italian. We aren't known for biting our tongues"), backstage during a performance of Fiddler on the Roof by the "Roselle Park Theatrical Society." She is dressed in layers of gauzy materials and fake pearls and sits locked into a harness that will be hoisted by the fly captain more than an hour later for her entrance as Fruma-Sarah, the deceased wife of Lazer Wolf who appears banchee-like in Tevye's imagined dream in Fiddler.

Ariana generally has to wait alone, but tonight she has company, Margo (Kelly Kinsella), the substitute fly captain who is covering for this performance. Ariana eyes Margo warily; after all, she will be the one being flown dangerously high over the stage. But, in truth, she is happy to have someone to talk to during the wait of more than an hour, especially since Brenda, the regular fly captain, tends to disappear after strapping her in.

It isn't long before we understand why it is that Brenda walks off whenever she is left alone with Ariana, who indeed does not bite her tongue as she leaps into stream-of-consciousness mode. For the next 75 minutes, she segues from self-aggrandizing anecdotes to sarcastic comments about her fellow thespians to resentment and self-pity, fueled by frequent gulps of bourbon that she keeps handily in a nearby flask. For her part, Margo, the hapless substitute fly captain, does her best to provide a sympathetic ear and sufficient encouragement to keep Ariana together until it is time for her entrance.

Within the play's layers of comic lines, what emerges is a strong sense of how important this gig is to both women. It is a piece of their lives that, however briefly, removes them from disappointment in others and in themselves, and allows them a sense of fulfillment they are otherwise missing. What lies beneath Ariana's brazenness is a failed marriage, a failed relationship with her daughter, a failed career, and a dependence on alcohol that she attempts to cover up with her brash persona. For her part, the younger Margo sees in Ariana all of the pitfalls she is trying to avoid while living up to her own real-life responsibilities.

Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings) is built on a foundation of tropes, truisms, and in-jokes about the world of community theater. As such, it is likely to find a long and happy life among amateur companies across the country where productions of Fiddler abound and Fruma-Sarahs wait interminably in the wings. For now, however, it serves as a glorious forum for Jackie Hoffman, whose performance, under Braden M. Burns's direction, brings her character resoundingly to life.

Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings)
Through July 25, 2021
the cell (338 W 23rd St. between 8th and 9th Avenue)
Tickets online and current performance schedule at