Performing Arts

Stage Door’s ‘Old Jews Telling Jokes’ is amusing, seldom more

Gail Byer, Adam Chisnall, Michael H. Small, Ashley Brooke and Ben Brayz let the vintage gags fly in Stage Door Theatre’s ‘Old Jews Telling Jokes.’
Gail Byer, Adam Chisnall, Michael H. Small, Ashley Brooke and Ben Brayz let the vintage gags fly in Stage Door Theatre’s ‘Old Jews Telling Jokes.’ George Wentzler

Have you heard the one about a popular website featuring older Jewish folks telling jokes, and how two guys turned the idea into a stage show? How people in New York loved the show so much that it ran Off-Broadway for over a year? How the show has finally made it to South Florida, where the pairing of Old Jews Telling Jokes and the audience at the Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs would seem to spell surefire hit?

All true, but there’s no punchline to follow that setup. Showbiz is unpredictable, and while Stage Door’s production provokes its share of laughs, giggles and smiles, it’s a long way from the perfect fit the producers must have imagined.

Some of the problem stems from the show itself, which is filled with hit-and-miss material. Some comes from the execution under Peter Loewy’s direction. At the moment, at the beginning of a long run, Old Jews Telling Jokes is gently funny, but it’s more often a letdown than a laugh riot.

Old Jews Telling Jokes assembles jokes vintage and new, innocent and blue, into a revue. It was created by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent and based on an internet series created by Sam Hoffman and produced by Hoffman, Tim Williams and Eric Spiegelman — lots of hands involved in this one.

Accompanied by pianist David Nagy, actors Michael H. Small, Gail Byer, Ben Prayz, Adam Chisnall and Ashley Brooke sing a little (including the obligatory audience singalong, Hannukah in Santa Monica, with lyrics helpfully projected behind them). Each gets to act a monologue, generally of the funny but poignant variety. But mostly, the performers slip in and out of different characters as they fire off jokes.

Those jokes are loosely grouped by theme: birth, childhood, dating and courtship, business and money, religion, assimilation, doctors, retirement and old age. Two of the joke tellers, Chisnall and Brooke, are in fact young (and you’d describe Prayz, Byer and Small as seasoned, not old). But comedic acting and telling jokes are two different skill sets.

Just watch the black-and-white footage of the late Alan King working a joke to grasp the kind of timing and delivery that fueled decades of Catskills comedy. Showing those snippets in the second act is a little jarring, and juxtaposing King’s masterful style against jokes that land with varying degrees of success doesn’t help the actors.

Chisnall and Brooke are the brightest spots in the cast, besting their elders in terms of quickly morphing into different funny characters with spot-on timing. Small plays the blustery old guys, particularly one named Morty, with an appropriate world weariness. Prayz is more of a character guy than a comedian, and Byer often struggles with timing and style.

If you go to Old Jews Telling Jokes, you’ll hear gags about sex (lots of those), about Jewish moms fixated on getting their single daughters hitched, about advice both goofy and wise from rabbis. Often, the “conversation” between long-married spouses sounds more like the kind of shouting match you can hear in many a South Florida grocery store. So there’s truth in Old Jews Telling Jokes. But the laughs could and should be bigger, better and more frequent.

If you go

What: ‘Old Jews Telling Jokes’ by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent.

Where: Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Rd., Coral Springs.

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday, through Jan. 4.

Cost: $44.

Information: 954-344-7765 or www.stagedoortheatre.com.

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