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Theater Review: “A Jewish Joke"

“A Jewish Joke” plays through April 8, 2018, at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd.
Photo credit:
Eric Woolsey

The trajectory of a life can change on a dime – or, in the case of Bernie Lutz, on a mere suspicion.

In Marni Freedman and Phil Johnson’s riveting one-man show “A Jewish Joke,” Johnson plays screenwriter Bernie Lutz, seemingly on top of the world as he awaits tonight’s red-carpet opening of a new film he wrote with partner Morris Frumsky. Their tuxedos are hanging in their spare but cluttered writer’s bungalow, along with a new fur jacket for Bernie’s wife.

Bernie and Morris also have several other projects in the fire – a script for the Marx Brothers, one for Danny Kaye and one for NBC.

Then the phone calls start. The opening is postponed because it seems, Bernie and Morris have been mentioned in “Red Channels,” a pamphlet whose intent is to drive “reds” out of the entertainment industry. The Marx Brothers and Danny Kaye projects are also scrapped.

That’s right, it’s 1950, the beginning of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s campaign against a manufactured enemy he calls “the red menace,” which will ruin many careers in Hollywood.

Bernie works his rotary phone ceaselessly, calling everybody he can think of until someone tells him a “meeting” Morris took him to (on the promise of cocktail wieners) was really a cell meeting of communists.

And as quickly as that, Bernie and Morris become victims of the fearmongering campaign.

Johnson’s script is brilliant in weaving both comedy (lots of Jewish jokes) and the fear, confusion and what turns out to be the agony of a man not only unjustly accused, but asked to either admit his “betrayal” or to rat on his partner Morris.

Johnson is utterly believable, so much so that you’ll feel that he’s just invited you to his office for a chat. But this is serious, portentous conversation, horribly reminiscent – and frighteningly still relevant.

Named Best Drama at New York’s 2016 United Solo Festival, “A Jewish Joke” has been touring the country and Johnson is now preparing for a January 2019 off-Broadway run. See it here while you can.

The details

“A Jewish Joke” plays through April 8, 2018, at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 728-7820 or theroustabouts.org