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Just Jokes 

Live Theatre Workshop’s production of Old Jews Telling Jokes delivers on what is seeks to offer

click to enlarge Matthew C. Copley and Michael F. Woodson in Old Jews Telling Jokes at Live Theatre Workshop.

Courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop

Matthew C. Copley and Michael F. Woodson in Old Jews Telling Jokes at Live Theatre Workshop.

Sometimes you do get what you pay for, and in the instance of Live Theatre Workshop's most recent production, Old Jews Telling Jokes, the show is exactly what it says it is. Except, perhaps, that not all of the players are old or actually Jewish.

The laugh-a-minute string of shorts and skits by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent is less a play than it is a joke revue. If you are expecting a classically shaped story and a script that delivers something to savor as you think later about your theater experience, you probably would not laugh every minute. But you'd probably still laugh. The quintet on stage is willing to make you groan, giggle and, all right, guffaw—perhaps in spite of yourself.

In a steady pace, encouraged by director Maryann Green, the players open this canister of laughing gas as a group, in duos or solo, capitalizing on every—and I do mean every—stereotypical attribute Jews have garnered in the U.S. over time. The subjects of the jokes include food, mothers, money, sex, children (especially children that have not fallen in line with family expectations), husbands and wives, body parts and bodily events (or lack thereof), visits to the doctor and death. In short, it's the stuff of all of our lives, regardless of religious background. However, the specifics of the jokes and skits are definitely set within a unique cultural tradition and delivered with a very light heart, as well as an uncensored vocabulary. Judging by the audience's reaction, the comedy was welcomed with enthusiasm that indicated their attempt to stay genuinely light was successful.

There are a few familiar faces in this LTW production. Michael F. Woodson has been featured too many times to mention, but most recently he appeared in God's Man in Texas. In the upper end of middle age, Woodson has a genuine feel for the funny, and he gets to deliver a lot of the jokes involving mature men. However, he's certainly game for traipsing around in shorts (created by pulling his long pants up to his knees,) a beanie with a propeller, a huge Buster Brown bow tie and clutching a large and colorful lollipop. Sight-gags, of course, are a large part of the joke experience here. Then there is Pat Timm, who I suppose gives the play a mature woman's sensibility. That is to say, she provides a good go-to for those scenes featuring that most superior of all Jewish types: the Jewish mother. She delivers one of the play's best quips as she supplicates God to save her grandchild from being swept out to sea. Lo and behold, a dolphin appears and brings the boy to the shore, but then she turns her face to the heavens and exclaims, "He had a hat!"

Matthew C. Copley lends a younger male energy to the ensemble, as he slides quickly from one character to another. One of the ways this catalog of jokes is organized (although perhaps that's not quite the right word) is giving each actor/characters time to tell their story. Each flies solo as they recount a memorable experience or two. Although told with a comic touch, there are moments of poignancy, and Copley gives us one of these moments.

Candace Bean contributes some younger female energy in her many bits, and Bob Kovitz metes out a musical dimension for the show, which is small, but welcomed. His piano was fine and he played a mean ukelele, but let's be clear: music is not an integral part of the piece.

The set is essentially a background wall decorated with dozens of framed family photos, which nicely but unobtrusively suggests the strength of family. That strength is as quintessentially Jewish as an ever-present willingness—and sharpness—to see the funny in what might seem the unfunny. As a character states, "There is no inappropriate time for humor."

While that's true, just know that if you want a laugh from a very old-fashioned, but classic—although often raunchy-- sort of humor, you won't be disappointed by the parade of puns and punchlines showcased in LTW's production.

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