Los Angeles Theater Review: JACKIE FIVE-OH! (The Renberg Theatre at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center)

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by Tony Frankel on January 21, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

OWNING HER INNER KVETCH

In Michael Wex’s treatise Born to Kvetch, he asserts that Kvetching (complaining) is not only a pastime for Jews – it’s a way of life. Kvetching can be applied indifferently to contentment or displeasure: it is a way of knowing, a means of apprehension that sees the world through cataract-colored glasses. If the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” had been written in Yiddish, it would have been called “(I Love to Keep Telling You that I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (Because Telling You that I’m Not Satisfied Is All that Can Satisfy Me).”

Welcome to the world of the riotous Jackie Hoffman, a New York character stage actress who had a grand slam of successful Broadway hits in the first decade of the 21st Century, namely Hairspray, Xanadu and The Addams Family, the last of which is used as comedic fodder in her latest one-woman show Jackie Five-OH! (a reference to her fiftieth birthday). This is her sixth one-person show, and while the somewhat uneven proceedings here are better-suited to an intimate nightclub with a bevy of cocktails, there were plenty of laughs to be had.

You would think that any actress would be grateful on hands and knees for such a career, but this is the quintessential New York Jewess Kvetch as actress. Her inhospitable mockery of The Thing that feeds her is refreshingly irreverent. After The Addams Family collected more pans than Rachael Ray’s kitchen, the people involved with the notorious musical became, “the most reviled, criticized, loathed, victimized, shat-upon, financially successful group of people since the Jews.”

And even with her steady work on Broadway, Hoffman’s self-deprecatory wailings remain hysterical with lines such as “I would have won a Tony if there were a category called Hating Other People’s Careers While Combining Maker’s Mark, Ambien, and Pinkberry.”

Any great Borscht Belt-style comic, from the Catskills to your Uncle Mort, will teach you that the best Kvetching is both grounded in truth and uses repetition. It’s uproarious each time Jackie reminds us of a quote from USA Today (her “go-to” source for theater news): “As Grandma, Jackie Hoffman is hunched over, screeching, and just downright irritating.” Not so funny was her constant reminder that, post-performance, she will be selling the 2008 CD called “Live at Joe’s Pub” (where this show debuted in 2010). Kvetching is one thing, self-promotional kvetching is, well, downright irritating.

Hoffman is also a brassy belter who, along with sterling musical director (and piano player) Bobby Peaco, has written some very silly songs. Some were facetiously funny, while others (“You’re a Jew, Not a Buddhist”) had a humorous context, but lacked clever lyrics – and her singing was indeed occasionally screechy. She consistently refers to her career as if she has been terribly wronged, lamenting that “every character in The Addams Family has a song but [my character] Grandma. Lurch has a song and the fucker doesn’t even talk.” Hoffman tells us that she wrote a number for Grandma, but the producers turned her down. Oddly enough, the Grandma song – which was performed at Joe’s Pub – was curiously omitted in Los Angeles.

The stand-up whiner doesn’t stop at theater. She ridicules her family and upbringing in Queens. She begs for a role in a Holocaust movie. She shamelessly riffs about how Queen Latifah (who replaced her in a movie that had already filmed Hoffman in two scenes) is responsible for the loss of Jackie’s Screen Actors Guild insurance. It’s a successful bit even though Jackie tells us that her film career is mostly relegated to cameos anyway (perhaps the camera adds 10 pounds of screeching).

Hell, yes, Jackie Hoffman is funny and some of the material (co-written with director Michael Schiralli) is inspired lunacy. She’s the bastard child/hybrid of Ethel Merman, Molly Picon, Andrea Martin, and Bette Midler, one who takes a career of lemons and turns them into a spicy lemonade cabaret act. Yet while her confrontational style is never truly wearying, her show (as seen at the Renberg on the night of the Golden Globes) feels like a work-in-progress: other astounding songs from her New York run were dropped, and some newer material and improvisation felt flat. At one point, she even lost her place and referred to notes that were sitting on the piano, which was disconcerting to my theatergoing companion, who couldn’t believe he saw that in a theater.

Producer Jon Imparato was wise to bring her to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, but I was hoping to see nothing but the best of Jackie. When she did a fall-on-the-floor funny imitation of Bernadette Peters, it turned out to be a teaser and ended as soon as it began – no wonder the entire act clocked in at fifty-eight minutes.

An evening such as this nearly begs the reviewer to write, “And then she said…” “And then she said…” “And then she said…” and leave it at that. But my experience reminded me of the most famous joke that describes the perfect Kvetch. A man on a train complains, “Oy, am I thirsty,” “Oy, am I thirsty,” “Oy am I thirsty.” Finally, someone gives him a refreshing drink, after which the man begins his new lament, “Oy, was I thirsty,” “Oy, was I thirsty.”

So, allow me to kvetch as well. Jackie (who had me bent over with laughter a few times) is amazing and the concept is supremely refreshing, but the show, as a whole, is pretty good – not great. Maybe next time she can stick her notes on the back of the CD case she continually shows to her patrons and kill two issues with one kvetch.

photos by Kevin Yatarola

Jackie Five-OH!
The Renberg Theatre at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center
scheduled to end on  January 22
for tickets, visit  http://www.lagaycenter.org/boxoffice

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Alan Mandell January 22, 2012 at 11:36 am

Excellent review. Sound advice!
I hope she listens.
I read you whenever I have time to see a play.

Love you and Harvey,
Alan

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