On Thursday evening I arrived at the Players Theatre in Greenwich Village at 6:38 for a 7:00 showing of “Odd Birdz,” a sketch comedy revue from the Israeli company, Tziporela. For once in my life, I was early.
At the ticket booth, a carton of Parliament Lights stared at me from behind the cashier, who told me she thought it was a prop from another show. She handed me my tickets, seats J2 and J4, then I went outside to wait for my friend. He was hungry, so we stopped at Ben’s, the pizzeria where comedian Louie C.K. wolfs down a slice of cheese during the intro to his television show, before heading to perform stand-up at the Comedy Cellar, which, as luck would have it, is right next door to the Players Theatre. I took a good bite of my friend’s slice of pizza. Then I suggested we take our seats because I’d been told it the show would begin promptly at 7 p.m.
The theatre was dim, as though it had been dipped in a can of elderly maroon paint. But it felt storied—and cozy, too: Everybody wore a smile as though they were in on a joke they were excited—when the time was right—to share. The performers, who all seemed ready to pop, mulled about, hugging and greeting guests, often in their native tongue. One actor, Gal Friedman, handed us red chocolate hearts; and when I asked for more, he gave me more.
But at 6:45, the theatre was more or less empty. So we decided to hop across the street, to one of those drab Village basement-holes, to slug a sour pint of beer. When we arrived back at the theatre, at 6:57, the crowd—mostly young—had arrived. They show started on time, Israeli-time, at about 7:07.
Love is the central theme to all 22 “Odd Birdz” sketches, which are run through with deftness. (In fact, it’s the fluidity with which the sketches segue from one to the next that help to keep the one-and-a-half hour show, which felt longer, afloat.) And love is a dense, fruitful topic that the rangy Israeli troupe explored quite a bit, if not enough; it’s mostly very fresh.
“Odd Birdz” takes its time in letting the audience in on just how much talent—musical and otherwise—the cast has, and it pays off.
The show begins with a performance by Friedman and Efrat Aviv, who would eventually steal the show with her acrobatics, 1,000-megawatt smile, and, fittingly, an ability to competitively grieve that is second to none. In the opening skit, Friedman and Aviv role-play a number of couples seated in two rows at a movie theater, with each portrayal (and costume change) spaced only by the flick of a light switch. Though confusing at first—the scene does end up serving as a narrative bookend to the show—it signaled to me that the troupe, which has been together for ten years, knew how to seamlessly work some theatre magic.
Aviv is given the spotlight in a predominantly solo sketch called, “Set For Two,” in which she shows her headbanging and puppetry skills (my friend fell in love after this scene), and again towards the end in a scene called “The Grave,” the most riveting, Edward Scissorhandsian sketch of the night. In it, Aviv and Naama Amit try to one-up each other while mourning—and while eyeliner streams down their cheeks. Amit’s performance—in not trying to match her hyper counterpart—showed maturity and accentuated Aviv’s. In another sketch, Amit took the stage alone and lip-synced through what had to be 30 songs, from Michael Jackson to Britney Spears to Tears for Fears, and nailed it by switching back and forth between wearing a fedora, then taking it off to reveal and pink ribbon, for each song. At times, it felt like I was at a sleepover party.
The show’s best scenes are “The Translators” and “OMG.” In “The Translators,” the actors, well, translate for one another from Hebrew to English and back again. It’s remarkable for it’s intricacy and foreshadows the troupe’s familiarity with American culture, which was well on display thereafter, with jokes about A Few Good Men and the state of Oklahoma. In “OMG,” Aviv, Amit, Lotus Etrog, and Tamara Klayngon—all four of the troupe’s female cast members—portray a niche of American women as ditzy balloons, who, when popped, let out rhythmic nothing-ditties like “Oh my god” and take selfies.
A few sketches felt a little flat, even tired. A recurring musical duet-fight between Amit and Ben Perry, while sweet, was not a supple enough platform for both actors, including Perry, whose ability to display emotion using his eyebrows, and energy, is compelling. As well, a campy scene at Ben Gurion airport (“these are times of war!”), featuring Perry, the excellent Tomer Nahir Petluk, and Danny Isserlessin, in which two of them check the passport of an American traveler, and then proceed to show off just how gay they are by prancing and dancing around with stuffed crotches, felt like an outmoded and far too stereotypical punchline for New York City in 2015.
And yet, for each slightly sour note were two savory ones that could give SNL a lesson or two—and a fan base to back it. When the show ended, the Tziporela cast gathered outside to meet with revelers who were amped after having soaked up 90 minutes of fun. Petluk, who held the doors open for guests to exit, told me that the entire ensemble had been shown off to New York the night prior by 2,000 people at the Tel Aviv opera house. Amid the crowd, my friend found his crush, Aviv, and I went over to ask her if she had names for the puppets she uses in the show. “No,” she said, smiling. “No names for my boobs either.” Then, she was swallowed up by a hug from a fan.
Rating: 3.25 out of 4 stars.
“Odd Birdz” is showing at the Players Theatre through September 6.