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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Westside Theater

By David Lefkowitz

Much like the old adage about screenplay plots, there are only a finite number of jokes in the world. What makes the difference is delivery and context. Henny Youngman can be beloved - and hilarious - for 80 years, while a hack yacking the same yocks might never get past open-mic night at the brewery.

Somewhere between these poles is Steve Solomon's comedy, My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish, and I'm in Therapy, a sleeper hit now playing to herds of bridge-and-tunnelers at off-Broadway's Westside Theater. Solomon no longer stars in his solo show, because its popularity has led to a tour and, a la Defending the Caveman, he's gotten someone else to play him in New York. Paul Kreppel is the current Steve Solomon, and having not seen the original performance, I can't tell whether his impersonation is lifelike or if his own persona is on view. But what does it matter? Any relation between the joke machine that is My Mother's Italian... and the life experiences of Steve Solomon is purely accidental.

Therein lies the knife that shreds this frustratingly bland entertainment. The title and set-up of the show promises to take a nostalgic look at growing up the product of a bi-ethnic household, and to be filled with anecdotes about zany but loving parents, eccentric relatives, goofy neighborhood kids, scary times, sad times and times that shaped the narrator's personality. We've seen this format in dozens of permutations - from Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays to the dese-dem-dose of Jersey Boys - mainly because it works. Everyone's got a story, and if they tell it well, we'll happily spend some time hearing them recount it.

But Solomon doesn't tell his story he tells jokes. Old jokes. And he hangs them, one by one, on the floss-thin clothesline of his autobiography. The problem with this gambit is that after twenty minutes, we can't trust a word he says. If he seems poised to share an amusing anecdote about his parents' relationship, he's not. He's just readying a punchline familiar to anyone who's seen Catskills on Broadway, or Catskills in the Catskills, for that matter.

But why does that matter if the jokes are funny? Because most of the jokes aren't that funny, and even the ones that elicit more than a chuckle feel falsely wrapped. It's like watching a health program only to realize halfway through that it's an infomercial. The facts may be the same and even legitimate, but there's no way to watch with an open heart.

Only a few days after I saw My Mother's Italian..., I caught the revival (and Broadway debut) of A Bronx Tale. Granted, both of Chazz Palminteri's parents were Italian, but compared to Solomon's dull fakery, Palminteri's brilliantly performed and beautifully scripted autobiography felt like therapy.


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