Left - Lena Fiszman and Jack Felman
Looking around Hollywood, at comedies past and present, it’s impossible to ignore the influence of the Jewish community on what we consider to be amusing in the modern Western world. From the odd-ball irreverence of Mel Brooks’ spoofs through to the current vogue for Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler et al in geek-chic stoner romps, Yiddish has become the language of comedy, permeating everything from universal to R rated productions.
With this in mind, Born Guilty: A Scary Guide To Jewish Parenting, written by the Jewish veteran of such stage laugh-a-longs as ‘Don’t Teach Me – I’m Perfect’, Jack Felman, and starring the ever impressive Lena Fiszman (of Hot Bagels fame), promises to deliver a riotously funny sideways glance at the awkward horrors of being raised by holocaust surviving parents. Unfortunately, where Brooks and Judd Apatow slide Semitic reference into their otherwise universally themed stories, Felman approaches from the other side of the equation, attempting to bring a very exclusive situation into the wider world of humour, with, it must be said, much less success.
The middle spread of the programme accompanying the show is a Yiddish dictionary of sorts, and is probably the highlight of the whole affair with its pithy definitions of some of the less familiar words used in the play – ‘Simcha – A celebration, e.g. when your daughter marries a doctor.’ Despite the glossary, the script deems it necessary to define each utterance at every turn, meaning the continued use of “Meshiginer; crazy person” becomes tedious, a tedium that is also reflected in the plays wearisome repetition of the same jokes over and again. Yes, the notion of an old married couple sniping muttered remarks of discontent at one another is a sure-fire winning gag and yes, Felman and Fiszman demonstrate a remarkable chemistry onstage as the protagonists grumbling parental unit, but no, this is not a gambit worthy of carrying the entire play on its back. At two and a half hours long, the show is lengthy enough without enduring the repeated, if at times chuckle-inducing repartee between Mania and Velvel Przeszekowski.
The programme notes that lead role actor Alan Brostek is a chartered accountant by day and it doesn’t come as a huge surprise to learn that acting is not a full time occupation. While his vocal performance is good, eliciting a nice amount of awkward tribulation from the script, many of his cues are either missed or fumbled uncomfortably negating the comic aspect of the dialogue, and physically he is not nearly natural enough, lending a surprising credence to the venue of the show, St Martin’s Youth Theatre. However, Brostek does put in a hilarious turn as a newly born baby in the first act, which is an undoubted highlight.
Born Guilty is perhaps too exclusive in its appeal to ever achieve what it apparently intends, but as the sounds of literally unrestrainable laughter ring out around the auditorium at every Nudnik and Geshtinken, it can’t be denied that maybe all the above text is merely the talk of a cynically ignorant, anglo-saxon Goyim (non-Jewish person). Some lines just didn’t seem funny, others were predictable or badly delivered and yet almost every delivery was greeted with a warm and raucous mirth that this schmuck just couldn’t be a part of. Oi Vey.
A scary guide to Jewish Parenting
Venue: St Martins Lane, South Yarra
Dates/Times: Wed 25th 8pm, Thursday 26th 9pm, Sat 28th 8pm and Sun 29th 2pm matinee and 8pm, August 2010