So some Steins, some Leibowitzes and a few Lipschitzes go to the theater. They’re gray and growing whiskers—but then again, so are the gags they came to hear. Don’t accuse it of false advertising: Old Jews Telling Jokes sets up the crowd for the punch line before anyone sits down.
The five cast members—including two professed “young Jews”—do sing the occasional song, act in a few sketches, and deliver heartfelt monologues about the Old World and the purpose of laughter. But for the most part, the actors step downstage, alone or in pairs, and lob old chestnuts into the house. There are a few nods to life after the Exodus (e.g., a vibrator joke), but overall, classic tropes are in play: Jew walks into a bar, Jew sees the doctor, Jew gets stranded on a desert island (with two, count ’em. two shuls). The performers all have fine rhythm, but the standout, Marilyn Sokol, brings a talent for character and an elastic mug to everything she does.
If this concoction starts to sound like a bowl of bubbe’s matzo ball soup, well, exactly. (A huge upstage poster of Streit’s matzo—looking like an attempt to feed a kosher giant—aids such associations.) The show is warm, amiable, a little bland, but in the end, familiar. Even if you are neither hoary nor Hebrew, you probably know (or are guilty of telling) many of these gags in one form or another—we heard multiple punch lines anticipated by whispering showgoers the night we attended. If this sort of camaraderie sounds diverting, mazel tov. If you’d prefer to let Uncle Morty sling ’em at the seder, don’t worry—these old Jews will slay ’em in Florida.—Matthew Love