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By Martin F. Kohn
It’s a little confusing, so bear with me. “Old Jews Telling Jokes” is a play in which actors, not necessarily old or Jewish, tell a profusion of very good jokes, mostly Jewish and mostly old. How old? I heard a few of these jokes in high school, a few in middle school and some of them must date back to the era of Fred and Wilma Flintstein – excuse me, Flintstone (they changed their name for business purposes).
Kayla Gordon’s staging at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre moves not at a gallop but a canter (no pun intended), which is a good thing. Jokes are told or acted out briskly, but all the words are clearly enunciated and the punch lines land naturally.
The actors, whose Jewish accents are excellent, get into character even in the brief moments it takes to perform a joke. Check out the way Greg Trzaskoma, Fred Burchalter and Eric Gutman are sitting as they portray three Texans on a plane, the way Dorry Peltyn hesitates for a millisecond as she delivers a wife’s spin on a doctor’s diagnosis, or the way Sandra Birch bats her eyes as a sexy sheep on a desert island.
Speaking of desert islands, there are quite a few jokes about people marooned and none about an Irishman, an Italian and a Jew, or anyone else, walking into a bar. The implication here may be that Jews are well-acquainted with the wrong end of misfortune, but not so familiar with drinking establishments.
Or not. It’s just jokes, culled by Peter Gethers and Michigan native Daniel Okrent from a web site and subsequent book, both called “Old Jews Telling Jokes.”
There is a certain order to the proceedings. The jokes begin with birth and childhood and end with retirement and old age. Among topics visited in between are marriage, divorce, sex, bodily functions (lots of jokes about sex and bodily functions), business, food, religion, assimilation and doctors.
Along the way you’ll find out what happens when the Catholic Church offers Jews $50 to convert; what happens when an Italian, an Irishman and a Jew open competing shoe stores, and why the secret to great sex is rye bread.
The show isn’t all jokes. There are a few choice musings (everybody gets one) about the importance of humor, and a song or two, including a sing-along of Tom Lehrer’s “(I’m Spending) Hanukkah in Santa Monica.”
The laughs are big and frequent, and while it isn’t crucial, knowing a few Yiddish words couldn’t hurt. Those who are hard of Yiddish will find a helpful one-page glossary in the program.
Those who are hard of humor should do the rest of us a favor and stay home.
‘Old Jews Telling Jokes’
The Jewish Ensemble Theatre Company
at Aaron DeRoy Theatre on the campus of the Jewish Community Center
6600 W. Maple Road, West Bloomfield
2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17
7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Dec. 4, 11, 18
5 p.m. & 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, 13, 20
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, 14, 21
1 hour, 20 minutes