Theater review by Raven Snook
[Note: This production moves to the SoHo Playhouse for an extension starting March 14, 2022.]
For Jews in certain situations, white privilege is only skin deep. Comedian Alex Edelman learned that lesson firsthand a few years back when he infiltrated a meeting of white nationalists in Queens. A favorite at international Fringe festivals, Edelman is known for being sharp-witted but rarely political; his fright night with the alt-right was ostensibly inspired by a barrage of anti-Semitic tweets—and a colleague who nagged him to take a stand in his stand-up—but surely also by the promise of hilarious potential material in store.
That promise is kept in Just for Us, in which his account of reactionary repartee serves as a framing device for a deeper dive into questions of identity and the limits of empathy. Edleman deftly interweaves disparate tales about his Israeli Olympian brother, an unkosher Christmas, Jared Kushner and religion-based vaccine hesitancy into a portrait of the entertainer as a young Jewish man in a polarized society. But he does this without pulling any punchlines: The laughs are plentiful. Despite the incendiary issues lurking at the edges of his tale, Just for Us is more focused on comedy than catharsis. Edelman is a master of callbacks, and his funniest jokes are accented with wonderful bulging eyes.
Edelman performed an earlier iteration of Just for Us two years ago at Brooklyn's Union Hall for one night. It's a mitzvah that his fellow solo-show expert Mike Birbiglia is presenting a longer run of the finished piece now, so more audiences can sit with his uncomfortable truths in a time of increasing anti-Semitic hate. Under Adam Brace's well-calibrated direction, and employing just one mic and three stools, Edelman conjures a roomful of enemies he naively believes he can charm. They don't succumb, of course, but theatergoers do.
Cherry Lane Theatre (Off Broadway). By Alex Edelman. Directed by Adam Brace. With Edelman. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.