Sunday, March 2, 2014

"Feisty Old Jew" ☼ ☼

The problem with Charlie Varon's "Feisty Old Jew" is that Bernie Schein, his lead character, isn't very feisty, doesn't seem old, and his only connection with Jewishness is a vague existential angst plus the last names of his and his friends, all residents of a Jewish senior home. Unlike so many in the newer generation of solo performers, Varon these days seems less a solo performer than a novelist trying out a few new chapters at an Open Mike. For those of us who were captivated by many of his earlier shows, and at the risk of sounding equally FOJ-ish, "Feisty Old Jew" in its current state of development does not live up to its great title.

The basic premise, that while we may age in body we still feel young and brash in our hearts, is a timeless one. Bernie Schein has always had something to prove and still does. We all know characters like Bernie, old-school guys who live for the discussion, for the argument, who will take any side of any story and become proponent or opponent. Bernie may not know if he actually wins the bet which is the heart of "Feisty Old Jew," but he is disappointed anyway, because he never gets a chance to argue about it.

This is an issue filled with promise for a performer. The problem, as we see it, is not Varon's writing nor his characters, but Varon himself. He, the author, is in the middle of every scene, not his characters. Bernie could carry this show, but not as long as the author is there in the car with him, telling us exactly what we are supposed to see.

The show is short, only 45 minutes. Perhaps Varon will flesh out his characters as time goes on, adding more dialogue and less explanation. After seeing an excellent short section of "Fish Sisters," also based on a guest at the same senior home, our guess is that Bernie Schein's story will end up as one powerful section of a larger and more ambitious finished project, on which Varon is currently at work. Which is to say, the tsimmis will have more zetz when it acquires more than one ingredient.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Department awards "Feisty Old Jew" Two Stars. We liked Bernie's ranting. We did not like Varon introducing himself, performing the show, then launching immediately into a half-hearted fund-raiser for the Marsh. We understand about financial pressures, but surely the performer can get off stage and let somebody else do it?

"Feisty Old Jew"
The Marsh
1062 Valenica Street, San Francisco
Sat. and Sun., Through March 16

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