Skewers Jewish identity with wit and affection

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I always find it agreeable when one form of culture turns up at a venue where we might not be expecting it, thus enticing new and curious spectators. The Menier’s regular audience of theatregoers are in for a treat with this bracingly amusing stand-up show, albeit one that owes a debt to a distinctively theatrical style of storytelling.

On a stage that is bare except for one wooden stool – which will be joined at a crucial juncture in the 90-minute narrative by two more stools –, American comedian Alex Edelman launches into a raft of amiable introductory jokes. “Something political happened to me,” he says nonchalantly, as he mentions how a tweet about his Jewishness plunged him down the rabbit-hole of online antisemitism. Reference to a white supremacist meeting in Brooklyn came up in the Twitter thread and Edelman, either bravely or daftly, decided to attend incognito, to see the real-life faces behind the online haters.

Edelman is a dynamic and instantly engaging performer, self-deprecating yet quietly confident, who offers an affectionate but still sharply witty perspective on his Orthodox upbringing, his Jewish background and cultural identity. “Judaism is the Hotel California of religions,” he informs us ruefully. “It’s a mailing list you can never unsubscribe from”.

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The twin strands of the show, the unknown perils of the Brooklyn meeting and Edelman’s childhood in Boston, are neatly interwoven and run concurrently. He enters the apartment with its “trays of racist pastries” and then we’re onto the delightful story of how his brother represented Israel in the Winter Olympics, an enterprise for which he had to train in Vienna. “Oh, the irony!” says Edelman with barely concealed delight.

Some digressions are over-extended and meandering – the 90-minute running time of Adam Brace’s production is a little too long – but Edelman’s explanation of how “Can you believe it?” is the perfect riposte to any and every disconcerting question is a treasure. The threat level at the Brooklyn meeting continues to rise insidiously, those two additional stools come into play to represent an ominous pair of attendees and we wonder how Edelman will draw it all together. Unfortunately, but perhaps inevitably, the pay-off isn’t strong enough, but there is much to admire and reflect upon in his surprisingly open-minded description of the meeting’s attendees and their socio-political motivations.

I hope that we see considerably more of this cross-cultural pollination in 2023. The National’s Dorfman auditorium, for example, would be the ideal space to host an Edelman-style show. After all, theatre can only be enriched and invigorated by opening its doors a little more innovatively.

Until 26 Feb (020 7378 1713, menierchocolatefactory.com)


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