“Old Jews Telling Jokes,” a comedy revue that Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent painstakingly compiled from source material culled from a popular Internet site and dating all the way back to the Flood, could use a tweak in the title. Calling it “Funny Old Jews Telling Hilarious Old Jokes” would give auds a better idea of the joy that’s in store for them. The jokes range from snappy one-liners to elaborate anecdotes, constructed along the chronological lines of the Seven Ages of (Jewish) Man and delivered with surgical precision by a cast of comic virtuosos. You’ll laugh your tuchus off.
There’s an artful simplicity to helmer Marc Bruni’s minimalist staging. The lights (by Jeff Croiter) burn hot; the scenes are defined by witty projections on a no-frills set (credit David Gallo for both); and the pianist (Donald Corren) at stage left keeps everybody in a happy mood.
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So, now that you know where you are, bring on the clowns.
Marilyn Sokol (star of stage, screen, and Dial-a-Joke) applies her genius for physical comedy to the adorably named Bunny. Her verbal forte is Jewish mother jokes (Q: “Why don’t Jewish mothers drink?” A: “They don’t want to dull the pain”). But her face has a mind of its own, and in one convulsively funny sketch it has a mind to play a lascivious sheep.
Lenny Wolpe (everybody’s favorite Wizard in “Wicked”) is the genial guy, the funny uncle who can make even a Jewish mother laugh. As Morty, Wolpe delivers the multi-character, shaggy-dog anecdotes. The one about the Russian, the Frenchman and the Jew who are lost in the desert. Those kind of jokes.
Todd Susman (a “Hairspray” alumnus) is the little guy with the suffering eyes and sly sense of humor. His droll Nathan plays the sad sacks who are stranded on uninhabited islands and cuckolded by their wives. But his line readings are more nuanced than Talmudic texts, reminding us that laughter is what gets us all through this veil of tears we call life.
Bill Army and Audrey Lynn Weston are a couple of youngsters soaking up all they can from their elders, but they bring enough savvy to characters Reuben and Debbi to hold their own in this illustrious company. By the time the show moves from Birth and Childhood, through Dating and Marriage and Business and Money and lands between Doctors and Death, Weston has tried on more accents than Jewish American Princesses do shoes. Army (“Relatively Speaking”) is gifted with timing to die for and that spark of lunacy that marks a natural-born clown, so enjoy him before he gets kidnapped by Hollywood.
They may be young, these kids, but as they point out in the show’s introductory song: “Young Jews are funny, too! We’re also less expensive for an Off Broadway revue.”
Even the green screen gets into the act, delivering a couple of visual jokes that bring down the house, along with a clip of Alan King doing his priceless nightclub routine of reading the obituaries of great men.
Well-positioned in the venerable Westside Theater, this one could run forever.