Smile and Wince
Rolling out an endless parade of stereotypes
“She makes me feel so… Jewish,” says Deborah Beale, the better half of an Upper East Side couple who wake up one morning with black skin. She spends most of the first act of White Chocolate testing her unsuspecting sister-in-law for signs of anti-Semitism, but she and playwright William Hamilton lose interest in Jewish stereotypes after the intermission. In the second half, Deborah’s husband, Brandon, says: “I’m black. Or should I say, I be black. No, that would be patronizing myself.” Stereotypes, Brandon realizes, are imposed as often upon ourselves as by others.
Which brings us to Jewtopia, a play about two single guys cruising JDate and the synagogue for girls; think Swingers recast with Ben Stiller and Jack Black. Now off-Broadway after a successful LA run, Jewtopia rolls out an endless parade of stereotypes. Some are harmlesssending food back at a restaurant, faxing family members your flight information (“cause you never know”); but there’s also the bossy wife who makes all her husband’s decision, and the Hasid who “showers once a month.”
I’ll admit I smirked now and then, but the people around me affirmed every supposed stereotype, however unoriginal or inaccurate, with a Pavlovian burst of laughter. Leaving the theater, I overhead one man say they should have used Maxwell House Haggadahs for the Passover scene. “You know, I have my stash,” his wife replied. Like so many lines of the play, it made me smile and wince simultaneously. If you’re willing to see yourself as a walking collection of clichés, it’s hard to disapprove when someone else does the same.