Still Jewish after all these years
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Still Jewish after all these years

A meshugene life in the theater

Eric Goldman writes and teaches about Jewish cinema. He is president of Ergo Media, a distributor of Jewish, Yiddish and Israeli film.

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Avi Hoffman tells the story of his life in a one-man show.

Avi Hoffman chose a career in acting, even though his parents tried hard to discourage him.

In his new Off-Broadway show, “Avi Hoffman’s Still Jewish After All These Years,” he relates his life story – growing up in the Bronx, becoming a rising young star, and maintaining an on-again, off-again love affair with Jewish theater. Like so many actors, Hoffman was concerned about being stereotyped – about being seen only as a “Jewish” actor – and in many respects this concern is his new show’s central theme.

Is it good or bad for casting agencies to see you only as “the Jew”? Hoffman is not quite sure. At times, it was good for his career; at other times it kept him from possibly getting that big role – to use the show business term, from “breaking out.”

In his new one-man show, now playing at the Stage 72 on West 72nd Street in Manhattan, Hoffman presents his biography and punctuates it with song. Hoffman is one of only a handful of talented actors who have gone back and forth between the Jewish and Yiddish stage and secular theater, and when he belts out a Yiddish song in the play, he clearly is at his best.

Hoffman tells that over the course of his career, a few times he got what could have been his big break, but every time something happened to limit its potential. One of those moments was when producer Joseph Papp, went to Riverdale to see a production of the Yiddish and English “Songs of Paradise.” Hoffman directed that production, and he was one of its stars. Papp was rediscovering his Jewish roots then, and he was so taken by what he saw that he moved the production to his New York Shakespeare Festival Theater. But he died shortly after, so nothing more happened.

In “Still Jewish,” Hoffman talks about his journey in the theater, his ups and downs, and his decision to create his first revue, “Too Jewish?,” which was followed by “Too Jewish, Too,” and then by this new production. Avi Hoffman is a fine performer with a sweet voice, who has a very heimish way about him. Michael Larsen, the musical director who joins Avi onstage as pianist, adds a great deal of warmth and has a wonderful rapport with Hoffman. The production continues through October 23. Tickets are available at brownpapertickets.com.

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