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Of Latkes and Lasagne

November 18, 2010 By:
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You have to give a hand to Jews and Italians -- they're so good at using them.

Audiences, too, have been using their hands to applaud the success of "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm in Therapy," a Prozac-popping production of angst and antics at the Society Hill Playhouse.

Ron Tobin totes two types of guilt as a one-man marauder of merciless memories, battling the good, the bad and the oy veys.

In a play originated by Steve Solomon as a showcase for his own shenanigans, Tobin is off-and-running with the off-Broadway comedy that's come to Philadelphia on a cloud of smoked brisket and broccoli rabe.

It's all relative for the actor, who is indeed Jewish "with some Italian members of my family."

Uncle Julius the Jew and Aunt Annabelle set a table of prachus/pasta-bilities for his own backstory, says Tobin.

Uncle Julius, getting on in years, has an appetite for bad things. When told not to eat a carb-loaded dish, he dished: "I'm not going to my grave hungry!' "

From such nonsense and noshes is Tobin inspired, sticking to the Solomon script, but screaming inside from his own family feuds. After all, Bubbas and Nonnas are none too different in their approach to family, matriarchs of manipulation with celestial smiles that steal your hearts -- even as they're clad in cliches onstage.

Tobin isn't stealing from his predecessor, but he feels he is, in a way, channeling Solomon, the wise writer/actor who made a niche for himself off-Broadway and around the country with his tour de farfel/fusilli.

"I do feel like a member of Steve's family" -- a burgeoning one, given that Solomon has scripted two sequels, relates Tobin. "It's like he handed his baby over to me."

Solomon's baby split in half? One for the originator (still doing the show elsewhere); one for this actor: If his Italian id is not the same as Solomon's -- whose green,white and red-in-the-face reaction color the script -- Tobin is familiar with the battle of the binationals.

Say it loud, say it -- louder: What else would you expect from both Italians and Jews? "I grew up in Long Island in a neighborhood that was a melting pot," he recalls of those long-gone daze.

Mix a Silver and a Silvestri, and watch what alchemy comes out. The comedy comments on the menu of mishugas and mix-ups that is a heritage of mixed religions, riffing on the sound and the fury that Faulkner never dreamed of.

Actor/comedian Tobin insists that he was born for this role. He impresses upon others how protean he is, and even those who haven't seen his other roles of a thousand -- OK, maybe 50 -- other voices and impressions have to know that his inner monologues are infectious.

That he has a good ear for dialects and diatribes is obvious. A comedian who's opened or worked for such masters as Henny Youngman and Jerry Seinfeld, his signs are everywhere that he's a one-man minyan of mirth.

As far as his career ?

"This is a culmination," Tobin says of the show at Society Hill Playhouse. "Everything I've done before has prepared me for this."

Prepare to laugh, he advises audiences. As for his own peace of mind, the play has become a Rolaids' moment of relief.

"Now I realize," he says of the multitudes of Jews and Italians he plays on stage, that "my family is not the only one that's nuts!" 

 

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