LAST COMIC STANDING
By Beverly Creasey
Boston Arts Review
Quick Take Review/Posted May 5, 2014
If I hadn’t met the playwright at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre after his show, I would swear Larry David, not Larry Jay Tish, was the author. The Last Jews: An Apocalyptic Comedy (playing through May 11th) has Curb Your Enthusiasm irreverence written all over it. And that’s a compliment. It’s not easy to send up the world and its atrocities without sounding callous.
Director Margaret Ann Brady finds the perfect comic tone for the material: It’s not at all dismissive of the pain we inflict on each other but she taps into an absurdist vein (the one right next to the pain) which has us shaking our heads while we’re laughing at the crazy premise: Canada, believe it or not, is the aggressor (in some future time warp). They’ve attributed the ozone problem in the Northwest Territories to methane in the Jewish community for some wacky reason…so the Sierra Club has stepped in to save the endangered Jews.
We meet two young, dedicated Sierra operatives who have located the very last Jews in North America and brought them to a “safe zone” where they can start repopulating. They’re still saving whales and penguins, mind you, but they’ve added homo sapiens to their list. When Morty asks how they found him, the young activist says it was easy. He just tracked supermarket data, Chinese food take-out orders and J-Date websites. The hitch to the Sierra plan is that the woman they’ve abducted (for her own good, of course) knows Morty. She was married to him. Oy veh! You can see where this is going, can’t you?
Tish keeps the adventure light, even adding a Brothers Grimm deus ex machina discovery device to insure a happy ending…but at the same time, we’re fully aware that genocide does occur now, today, in many places in the world so that happy ending isn’t really so happy after all.
Ellen Colton is delightful as the spunky woman they kidnap for Chuck Schwager’s bewildered Morty. Alexandria King and Aiden Kinney are charmingly intense as the very serious Sierra workers and Brad Kelly’s video design for the television news broadcasts is an effective and awfully clever comic coup. Mazel Tov.
Keep up with Ms. Creasey’s theater reviews at bostonartsreview.blogspot.com
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An ‘apocalyptic comedy’ inspired by one of history’s darkest chapters
The Boston Globe
By Steven Maas, Globe Correspondent
Published April 29, 2014
Larry Jay Tish is making a career of wielding wit to battle the dark side of humanity.
For nearly a decade, he has toured the United States and the United Kingdom as the Jewish half of “The Black-Jew Dialogues,” a multimedia variety show that skewers prejudice and stereotyping.
On Thursday, the 54-year-old Cambridge resident tackles humanity at its most inhumane with “The Last Jews: An Apocalyptic Comedy.” It’s set in a North Dakota bunker after a Canadian-led genocide has wiped out all but two Jews, Gertrude and Morty, who hadn’t spoken to each other since their bitter divorce two decades before.
Against the backdrop of hate, a young couple from the Sierra Club — Gus and Frances — tries to reconcile the ex-lovers so that they can give birth to a new generation of Jews. Through zingers rather than sermons, Tish dissects the forces that pull us apart and bring us together.
“The Last Jews” is being staged thanks to contributions and a fellowship from Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, where it will run May 1-11.
Q. You’re publicizing the play as a love story with a genocide twist. Why genocide?
A. I think the seed of it came when I went to Dachau a number of years ago. Part of my experience at Dachau is in the play. That’s where the thought came to me: What if they got everybody? Even if they did get everybody, it’s still about individual people. So it became this love story about the last two Jews on earth who happen to be an estranged couple. The genocide and the annihilation of the Jewish population is what gets these two together and fuels their rekindling and their love story. If this didn’t happen, they probably never would have seen each other again. The stuff that kept them apart gets smaller and smaller in terms of the big picture.
Q. Why did you make the Canadians the villains?
A. I wanted to flip reality on its head. Canadians are just really nice people. I thought what if maybe they’re not so nice. So when [bad] things started to happen in Canada, Jews get blamed. Hate is on a rampage and needed a scapegoat, and the default is the Jews. It also led into Gertrude talking about [the Nazi showplace ghetto] Theresienstadt: “How did the Red Cross not know this was bogus — it’s too nice. So never trust too nice.”
Q. And why the Sierra Club as the saviors?
A. I like using absurdity to reveal the truth. When I think about a species that’s almost extinct, I think about the Sierra Club. When we dehumanize people and hate them enough, they become animals, just like Hitler called us rats. He had a whole country thinking we were rats. That’s the thing that really bothers me. When I went to Dachau, there was a path that led to a village where the guards used to live with their families. They would leave work and go to their families. Their kids would run up, yelling “Hi Daddy.”
Q. Are the last Jews based on people you know?
A. I thought about my grandparents and their relationship of 60-something years and how they used to fight all the time, but they loved each other. Both were immigrants from Eastern Europe. They were what gave me the pride and joy and love of Judaism.
Q. You’ve been married 27 years; did you draw on that as well?
A. Of course. One thing that comes up in the play is the lack of communication that Morty and Gert seemed to have that was part of the cause of their separating. I have learned to not only communicate better with my wife, but to try and listen more than I speak. I remember telling Robin, my wife, “I’m a man; I’m doing the best I can.” Gus says that line in the play to Frances.
Q. Will this play appeal to non-Jews?
A. One of my dear friends is Armenian. He’s seeing his experience with his grandmother in a lot of what’s going on in the play. He relates to the hope at the end of it, the awakening, the understanding of hate squared and squared again. The story is bigger than just the Jews.
Q. Mel Brooks’s “The Producers” satirizes the Nazis. Was that film an influence?
A. I would say that Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” was more of an influence. He made that when Hitler was still in power, taking on the absurdity of what was going on. That movie really touched me. I was also inspired by Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful,” about a father’s relationship with his son in a concentration camp. That was the first time that I’m aware of that anyone used this type of environment to create humor. They say that humor is time versus perspective. I guess 60 years is enough time on something as tragic as that.
Interview has been edited and condensed.
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Local Playwright Stages ‘The Last Jews’
The Jewish Journal
Published Friday, April 25, 2014
By Steve Maas
Picture this: a secret bunker in North Dakota sometime in the future.
Inside are the last two Jews on earth, a sixty-something couple unwittingly reunited decades about their bitter divorce. Thanks to a post-modern medical miracle, they can still have a baby. But will they reconcile in time to save the Chosen People?
With “The Last Jews: an Apocalyptic Comedy,” Cambridge playwright Larry Jay Tish says he’s not out to conk audiences over the head with messages. Foremost, he’s looking for laughs, but he does hope the play touches the heart and perhaps even prods some soul searching.
The play will be staged for the first time May 1-11 at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. As you might have already guessed, it calls for a willingness to suspend disbelief.
For starters, the arch villains are the Canadians. As the Jewish woman, Gertrude, says, “don’t trust nice.” Tish spares us the graphic details of how the Jews disappeared, but at one point the play departs from its fast-paced banter when Gertrude recalls touring Dachau. Tish said his own visit to that concentration camp planted the seed for the play.
Tish said he straddled the tricky line between comedy and bad taste by “trusting my heart and trusting my humanity and sensitivity.” In readings of the play before audiences that have included Holocaust survivors, “no one has expressed outrage,” he said. “I think the way I get around it is that I really tell the story through the relationships of the characters.”
Besides Gertrude and her ex-husband, Mort, are a younger couple, members of the Sierra Club fulfilling their mission to save all things endangered. Much to their frustration, the young idealists discover that saving the Jews is much more complicated than saving whales or baby seals. Not only must they mend a seemingly irreparable relationship (where’s Dear Abby when we need her?), they face the confounding challenge of figuring out exactly what they’re saving. Not even the Jews themselves can agree on what it means to be Jewish.
The play speaks to more than just Jews, according to Rabbi Eric Gurvis, whose Temple Shalom in Newton has hosted a reading. “It’s asking about why any group of people or its value system or its heritage or its literature or culture should survive and what responsibilities do we have as a family of different communities to help one another survive,” Gurvis said. “I think there is some really powerful stuff in what Larry has put together.”
Existential matters aside, Tish says at its core, the play is a story to which any long-time couple can relate. In portraying the little and not-so-little things that rattle relationships, he drew on “what I’ve learned in terms of trying to keep my marriage happy and moving forward” the last 27 years. Although set against the monstrous backdrop of genocide, it is a story of love imperiled by internal, not external, forces. If Mort and Gertrude can embrace their differences, perhaps there’s hope for us all.
“The Last Jews” completes Tish’s Jewish trilogy. “I think I’m done with titles with the word Jews in it,” he said.
The first work, “The Black/Jew Dialogues,” uses a multimedia mishmash of skits, improv and puppetry to skewer stereotypes and prejudice. Created a decade ago by Tish and Ron Jones, it continues to tour campuses, theaters and synagogues nationwide and in Britain. Tish and Jones continue to perform and have trained two others to do the show as well.
The second piece, “Happy Birthday, First-Born Son” is still in development. “It’s about my Jewish mother who called me on my 49th birthday to tell me that I never should have been born,” Tish said. “That led to a 45-page monologue that I’m still working on – it has a lot to do with my grandparents and my whole experience as a Reform Jew in New York and Miami.”
Tish’s Jewishness remains in development, as well. Raised in a broken home and learning little about Judaism beyond the three-day variety, he turned to Buddhism in his 20s. But over the past decade, Tish, 54, says he has become more observant.
“I’m immersed more in our culture, our people,” Tish said. “I’m becoming like a spokesperson for all the Reform Jews who don’t feel like they’re Jewish because they don’t practice. I feel like I’m a bridge helping them connect to their Jewishness again.”
“The Last Jews” is being staged thanks to contributions and a fellowship from Boston’s Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, located at Boston University. For details and tickets, visit www.thelastjews.com.