|Members of the Israeli theater troupe Tziporela perform in Greenwich Village.|
The next month offers theatergoers two chances to exercise their Jewish funny bones.
The performances represent different aspects of the Jewish humor tradition, but both succeed in making the audience laugh with delight. Brad Zimmerman’s “My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy” stands firmly in the Borscht Belt school of stand-up, and I mean that as a compliment. Although Zimmerman adds some poignant reminiscences of his parents, this show is built around jokes. Zimmerman has a laconic, deadpan delivery, just right for his story of moderate success, long delayed, and the audience at the Triad Theater, 158 West 72nd St., lapped it up.
A native of Oradell, Zimmerman was a star teen athlete at Camp Akiba, but “my adult life has not been nearly as glamorous,” he notes. When he decided to move to New York City to make it as an actor, his temporary job as a waiter lasted 29 years. His experiences as a waiter at a series of nondescript restaurants makes for some of the funniest material in the show, although Zimmerman gets a lot of mileage out of his mother as well. Once he began doing stand up at the age of 42, Zimmerman started to work with comedians such as Joan Rivers, George Carlin, and Brad Garrett. The show is produced by the same folks who brought us “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” and it runs through the end of the year.
Farther downtown, the other show represents contemporary Israeli humor, which is based on a more European sensibility. Graduates of the renowned Nissan Nativ Acting Studio founded the Israeli theater troupe Tziporela nine years ago, and they have been performing in Israel and abroad ever since. Now their merry mishmash has landed at the Players Theatre in Greenwich Village for an inaugural American five-week run, offering a fun-filled gift to local audiences. The Tel Aviv-based troupe of nine – five women and four men – presents a wildly original mix of comic sketches, dance, mime, and music, poking fun at an assortment of everyday situations. As a pleasant relief, there are no politics in the show and almost no commentary on Israel’s myriad social conflicts. Instead there are 20 genuinely funny skits about dating, mating, job hunting, friendships both male and female, long-term marriage, and other such humble topics. The skits are marked by a warmth and sweetness that’s neither cloying nor mawkish, despite the occasional rough language.
Several of the performers are superior acrobats, and all of them are experts at split-second costume changes. Many of the skits depend on exquisite timing and the comic switcheroo. A standout comes early in the show when two actors perform an Israeli melodrama while two other actors translate. Soon the translators become involved in their own melodrama, and others have to translate. It all happens fluidly and hilariously. Later on, an actor taking off his clothes turns this ordinary activity into an outrageous laugh-filled striptease. Nothing to worry about; it remains quite innocent.
The troupe has been planning its Off-Broadway debut for two and a half years, adapting some of the skits for American audiences, performing them in English, and giving themselves the temporary name “Odd Birdz” to make it easier for English speakers to pronounce. (“Tziporela” means “little bird.”) They have already lined up educational workshops at the Juilliard Drama Division and Bereisheet, an after-school program founded by Israeli immigrants in northern New Jersey.
Actors in the troupe are popular performers in Israel, and several are seen regularly on Israeli television. Dance and movement backgrounds give them great agility, which they put to comic use on stage. A lot of Tziporela’s work in Israel is educational, presenting workshops and street performances, and the members of the group get to work engaging the audience even before the lights dim. Backgrounds on all nine members of the troupe are available at www.tziporela.com.
Part of the charm of the show is its Tel Aviv style – genial, tolerant, determinedly carefree, so different from the dour, combative tone many Americans associate with Israel these days. That style may be decried as frivolous or escapist, but everyone needs to escape an insoluble situation at times.