Diverse City

Remember the days before political correctness, the days when we weren't afraid to talk topeople for fear of offending them? Well, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company is presenting a delightful, slice-of-life comedy, King of the Kosher Grocers, which serves to remind us of those bygone days.

Originally produced in 1992, Joe Minjares' heartwarming play revolves around Izzie Silvers, a Minneapolis kosher-grocery-store owner of50years who knows how to serve his customers. Silvers knows his customers by their telephone rings. He also carries nonkosher items in hisstore, such as menudo, tortillas and black-eyed peas, to help serve the entire neighborhood.

Silvers is joined by his two closest friends: Elvis Mooney, who works for Silvers, and Joe Chavez, who is on the buying side of the business. These three--along with Mooney's grandson, Jamar, who works part-time for Silvers--live in a neighborhood that once was completely Jewish.

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Silvers fondly recalls when everybody in the neighborhood spoke Yiddish: "English was a second language," he declares. Now the neighborhood is mixed: Hispanic, black and gentile live side by side with the remaining Jews. But these characters have risen above the stereotypes of racism. They have entered a relationship that sees each person for what he is: a human being.

This does not mean these three friends are colorblind. On the contrary, Elvis refers to himself as black, and Silvers calls Chavez a Mexican. But all three are so genuine that they accept each other as a total package, without trying to deny their differences.

In fact, it is their differences that seem to have made their relationship so lasting. Each brings a different spice to the melting pot, making for a friendship among the three that most of us only dream about. Minjares emphasizes their universal human experiences, showing the men to be more similar than different.

A marvelous cast, under the insightful direction of Daniel Irvine, keeps the evening fast-paced and light.

Joe Bousard as Silvers is a delightfully traditional store owner. His advice is as tender as his cutting observations are sarcastic. Bousard's smooth, comic performance lets the humor develop from real life instead of playing each moment for laughs.

Mike Traylor is everybody's grandfather as Mooney, expertly using his voice and body to give his character the appropriate age. His lectures to Jamar on making a better life for himself are stirring.

And Lee Wells Jr.'s enthusiasm as Jamar, the young stock boy who has dreams of becoming a grocer himself someday, is infectious as he chases his dreams with vigor and purpose.

In the role of Chavez, Manny Simo-Maceo is easygoing and compassionate, but his accent is sometimes a bit too heavy, making him hard to understand.

The detailed set, designed by Brian Morphew, contains everything from fresh fruit in bins to drinks in a full-size cooler. It's perfect down to the dirt on the floor. The atmosphere is pure, big-city, mom-and-pop grocery store. Morphew's work is also the surprise star at the beginning of the third act.

AJTC is to be applauded, not only for a first-rate production of this thoughtful work, but also for giving us such a simple, straightforward example of how we can learn to get along better with our fellow human beings.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company's production of Kingof the Kosher Grocers continues through Sunday, November 19, inStage West at Herberger Theater Center.

 
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