My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy @ The Colony Theatre


Billed as one of the longest running one-man show’s in New York theatre history, Steve Soloman’s My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy is the kind of play that doesn’t exist without understanding it isn’t a play at all.  

Peter Fogel small

Directed by Broadway veteran Andy Rogow, it’s a one-man show, but with lots of interesting characters who we never actually see.  After an opening montage of meaningful random music. a prerecorded announcement by show-creator Steve Solomon welcomes us to the theatre, introduces his parents and reminds us to turn off our cell phones.  And that’s it from the show’s creator; other than the 20,000 words we’re about to hear. We find ourselves seated in the theatre in front of what looks to be an office.  Given the title of the play, it’s a therapist’s office. Enter Patient. Steve Solomon. Played by comedian, actor and motivational speaker Peter Fogel, the “play” (ne: one man show with high production values) begins with meeting a man in trouble.

A man no one wants to be but everyone can relate to.

Everyone is annoying him.  From the butcher to the baker.  But the one person who annoys him the most?  Not so much a surprise is his mother.  She won’t leave him alone.  Hence he’s in therapy.  In therapy to try and find how to live a life without all the stress. Not a new theatrical canard, Fogel plays the author and original performer of the show, and he immediately gets to the crux of the problemo.

I see my therapist once a week.  If I see my parents?  Twice a week!

We’re off to the races, the Unlucky Derby, whereby Solomon (through Peter’s performance) informs us that he’s unhappy and it’s all because everyone else is so annoying and fucked up to the point where he’s literally lost his soul. He picks up two books. First one: “Sexual Fulfillment of the Male”; turns out to be a pamphlet. Second one: “Sexual Fulfillment of the Female”; the phone book.  Cute; gets a laugh from the mostly very older crowd, who would titter at the notion of any mention of sexuality; and this jokes is as old as it gets, indicating we’re in for a very non-bumpy ride.

Why is he so surprised?

Fogel launches into a stand-up routine, with its theme being everybody and everything is frustrating, and the fact that he, as an intelligent adult man, hasn’t cottoned on that this is indeed life/get used to it, is a big empty hole in the entire logic of the play itself.  What is he, an alien?  Why is he so surprised?  Truth is, he’s not. Leading one to imagine he likes it that way.  It must be said – given all the theatrical illogics of the premise (he’s performing in his therapist’s office for one; the therapist never shows which becomes a triviality) Peter Fogel’s stand-up and story-telling is top flight, filled with spot-on characterization voices, brilliantly set-up anecdotes and frustrating realizations worthy of his own Netflix comedy special.  Hey, that’s a good quote!

“Peter Fogel’s stand-up and story-telling is top flight, filled with spot-on characterization voices, brilliantly set-up anecdotes and frustrating realizations worthy of his own Netflix comedy special. Hey, that’s a good quote!” – Steven Alan Green, The Jewish Journal, Enjoy the Veal

Imagine Jason Alexander, but good looking.  That’s what you get with Peter Fogel.  He’s both exasperated and exasperating.  I’m not so sure I wouldn’t want to be in therapy myself after spending nearly two hours in the theatre with his character.  But that’s where the fun is.  It’s like watching a crazy neurotic lion in a cage. The entire premise of the two act play/one-man show is that Solomon is telling us, the audience, what his life is like while he’s waiting for the therapist to arrive for the appointment.  Never mind that the therapist never shows and Solomon never leaves his office the entire time, save to go to the restroom signaling intermission.

Dr. Asshole

The therapist office and indeed the therapist himself (a one Mr. “Asshole” – pronounced Italian-like: “Ass-sole-lay”) is merely a theatrical canard; a device to allow the magic of theatre by not having to hire another actor. What’s great about the play and indeed Fogel’s performance, is the wealth of great stories and jokes which aren’t just peppered over a bland kasha knish.  No, these are very funny jokes and stories, interwoven from the same cloth as the subject of neurosis and dysfunctional relationships; and only occasionally does a one-liner land in the are you kidding me that’s so old category.  Either way, Fogel gets to appeal to the elderly in the mostly middle-age crowd who are maybe hearing those jokes through nostalgia.

It’s like watching a crazy neurotic lion in a cage.

Mostly, however, the laughs are there. Peter Fogel is a veteran, but still young of the stand-up comedy circuit.   He has charm and charisma and he’s very patient with us, except when he does a purposefully filthy clunker joke then feigns anger and frustration.   He wants us to be part of the fun, which is what makes My Mother’s Italian (etc.) such good fun. What does hang in the distance however is that we never really fully see Soloman’s character learn anything.  This isn’t Ordinary People, the watermark of great therapy dramas or Annie Hall, its comedic matching counterpart.

This is more like Annoying People.

Because that’s the population of the loved ones in Solomon’s life.  According to him.   Where the play falls short is that although we sympathize with the notion that parents in general can be impossible (and particularly first or second generational Jewish immigrant parents are concerned) we never really get to know who Solomon is as a person. We only see and hear what he has to deal with.  We empathize with him.  But sympathy is a whole other ball of wax and I found myself silently asking Solomon’s character repeatedly: Why don’t you just leave town.   That’s what I would do.  But then again, his mother would still have a way to reach him.

With Fogel at the helm, it’s a very funny stew.

There’s a lot of comedy food here

Having said that, if you want to spend an evening with a highly entertaining story-telling, joke-telling comedian, My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy is great value for money.  It’s an interesting theatrical trick.  To make us temporarily think that maybe we are peering into one of the most interesting hidden segments of society: Therapy.  But, since the therapist never shows, our hero is left to figure things out on his own.  And, in a way, thank goodness he never does.  Because what we’re left with is a very funny show delivered by a very talented actor comedian.  And, in a way, that’s enough therapy for us. Good entertainment.  There’s a lot of comedy food here, as one would expect to be born out of both Jewish and Italian families.  With Fogel at the helm, it’s a very funny stew.

The REAL conflict is within his own head

Great anecdotes, almost all really funny real life stuff, but at the halfway point, I was still asking myself: Where’s the conflict?  There is none.  The conflict is in Peter’s head.  And he plays it brilliantly as an actor could.   However, the source material doesn’t seem to allow any insight whatsoever as to how can any of us deal with things that aren’t our fault such as family.

The play has conflict that is never truly resolved; and that is the most disappointing element of the show. 

Solomon’s grandparents origin story is fascinating and just the kind of thing tailor-made for an older more appreciative audience.  We hear the tale of his failed marriage and the ham-handed advice from his Jewish father: “Marriage is like a bank account.  You put it in, you take it out, you lose interest.”  I’m sorry; but even Fogel made that hackney’d old joke funny.

 

How does a split-origin family operate?

The chunk about the kitchen is hilarious.  His mother’s Italian, so she cooks meatballs.  His father is expecting Kreplach.  It soon becomes apparent that the wedding of Judaism and Catholicism is at stake, even if it merely manifests itself on the dinner table.  What we’re left with is a man who is simply trying to figure out what is right.  What’s the right thing to do?   He’s in a dilemma which isn’t his fault, which is the clinical definition of tragedy.   We, the audience, know there are no answers.  And, yet, we hope that there are.

The strongest chains which bind us as not of foreign iron.  They usually are made from the steal within us; and ironically that’s why survivors are strong.

 

He’s in a dilemma which isn’t his fault, which is the clinical definition of tragedy.

What Soloman/Fogel soon come to understand is that they should be so lucky.  That being bugged and annoyed by your mother is truly a blessing, compared to children with cancer, for example.  Fogel plays it carefully.  Which he has to because he’s talking about other characters we never see, therefore making each and every audience member imagine their own to fill the void.  Here’s a character talking about his life and himself for 90 plus minutes and yet, we still don’t know him.  What really makes him tick.  Who he is outside of the identity of being a trapped neurotic modern Jewish man.  What we do know is his archetype. Which makes My Mother’s Italian a digestible couple hours entertainment with plenty of really funny laughs.

A clinging mother is the ultimate example of eternal love

Soloman/Fogel closes the show at the piano, playing and singing a sentimental song, extolling the love for his family heretofore hidden beneath the neurosis and complaining.  He’s truly a lucky man and the way he’s luckiest the most, is that he finally realizes that a clinging mother is the ultimate example of eternal love.  Now.  If he can only not get suffocated by her, My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy will have a long healthy run; even if Soloman never does.  Run , that is.

Trivial, but important notes: Upon my arrival to the Colony Theatre I suddenly found myself greeted by confused theatre staff who had no idea what to do with me, where my name was on the guest list, where to seat me.  It was comical if not very annoying.  And, Peter’s closing the show by telling the audience he’ll be selling his book in the lobby afterwards, was clumsy at best.  He should’ve just left.  Just like his character should either accept his family or leave.

Steven Alan Green, Enjoy the Veal, 5/8/17

Steve Solomon’s My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy runs through June 25 at The Colony Theatre in Burbank.  For tickets and move info Colony Theatre.  For comments or to have your show reviewed by Steven Alan Green for The Jewish Journal: sag@thelaughterfoundation.org.

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