Oy, the schmaltz: Jake Ehrenreich embraces his heritage in A Jew Grows in Brooklyn. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Full disclosure, and probably the weirdest one Curtains will ever have to make: In the middle of this (mostly) one-man show, during which:
a. Creator-performer Jake Ehrenreich shows slides of, among other things, his family, and
b. The audience is encouraged to yell out, among other things, straight lines, punch lines, random Yiddish words, and the names of Catskills resorts,
I saw a slide depicting Ehrenreich's wife of 12 years, Lisa, and yelled, "Is that Lisa Randall?" It was.
Ehrenreich's jaw dropped in genuine surprise (and he's a friendly, outgoing performer, so his fake surprise is pretty good -- he lives for moments like this, as far as we could tell). "Who are you?" he bellowed cheerfully into the darkness, and I replied, "I'm her ex-roommate Ken's friend Julie."
Lisa was on this leg of Jake's current tour with their son, Joseph, and I got to see them both before they flew home for school. So... enough about me and Lisa, who'd last seen each other in Manhattan in 1989. Geez.
You'd think otherwise, but the relationship didn't really matter after all: Everybody who's ever stopped at the Red Apple on route 17 or gone to Samuel J. Tilden High School or shopped at Gem Custom Upholstery and Decorating Company on Rockaway Avenue became an instant close friend of Ehrenreich during the performance or in the Herberger lobby afterward.
A Jew Grows in Brooklyn is not a play and not even really a show or revue, but it's a sweet, charming man telling stories and jokes and singing a few songs with a tight four-piece combo, so what's not to like? (Besides the lack of intermission, which, when announced just before a quick costume change, made at least one lady spring from her seat immediately).
The Valley's Jewish community is, God bless them, full of lovely old people who are mostly from someplace else, and Ehrenreich's audience was sizable, responsive, and happy as, you'll pardon the expression, clams. As an unchurched Protestant married to a lapsed Catholic, I feel qualified to say that there's plenty to enjoy here for everyone, as the narrative touches on family relationships, how comfortable you are in your own skin, and what kind of mark we're leaving on the world our children (okay, your children) will inherit.
It's also a fun time for anybody who's worked or tried to work or tried to co-exist with someone who's trying to work as an entertainer. For a big chunk of his career, Ehrenreich was primarily a drummer (including a stint in the original Beatlemania) and a session guy, and during the tummler segment of A Jew Grows in Brooklyn, while he and the band are zipping through Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)," he plays a phrase on a trumpet, then one on a trombone, then has his drummer slide over so he can take a solo behind the kit. My companion grasped my thigh with the warm, excited palm of a marching-band groupie (I was one, too).
A Jew Grows in Brooklyn runs through Sunday, January 11, on Stage West at the Herberger Theater Center, East Monroe Street. Tickets are $42 to $60; order here or call 602-252-8497.