Is it possible to be too Jewish?
Never, retorts theater's Avi Hoffman, who is staging an assault on that notion even as we speak.
It's a one-man show with one principal reason for being: to show pride in what it means to be a Jew. "The success of my show can be attributed to a great need among audiences to reconnect to the soul of the Jewish faith," says Hoffman, who has never lost that connection. The answer was provided long ago by audiences who have swarmed to see Hoffman perform in a variety of Jewish-oriented plays, such as the Joseph Papp production of "Songs of Paradise," "Finkel's Follies" and "The Rise of David Levinsky." Ultimately, Hoffman rose to the challenge by doing a musical "that would reinforce and reinstate and reinject a sense of pride in audiences to be Jewish. "There have been great composers, comedians, medical pioneers who are Jewish."
"Too Jewish?" may be just what the doctor ordered for today's Jewish audience. While "there is very little Yiddish used in the show -- and what there is is translated -- there is still a tam, a taste, of Yiddish to the production." There is bite, there is wit, and there is nostalgia. "You learn that Menasha Skulnik was -- comedically speaking -- the great-grandfather of Jerry Seinfeld." "I've always been able to cross the bridge between the two worlds." Such crossings have taken no toll on Hoffman. He has won praise for his Jewish side ("The Golden Land") and his American side (TV's "Law and Order").
But isn't "Too Jewish?" too Jewish a title?
"The reason I used that title is because many [Jewish] people in the business would hear my name and say, 'No, he's too Jewish' for this or that role. "And I would think, “Am I really? Is a talent Jewish or non-Jewish?” "You never hear Italians say of other Italians that they're too Italian, or Vietnamese say someone's too Vietnamese. But Jews are unique that way."
Has Hoffman himself ever carped that something was too Jewish? "No," he says. "If something is good, it's good." Good for him, audiences respond with their applause. And these are good times for Hoffman, who concedes, "I am shocked" -- in a positive sense --with the show's success.
It's worth mentioning, says the musical mensch, that "people are coming back a number of times to see it. It's become the 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' of Jewish theater," he laughs. The picture Hoffman is painting with this play is not one by the numbers. He has given considerable thought to the project and is abetted in his mission by musical director/arranger Ben Schaechter.
As a show, says Hoffman, "Too Jewish?" shows that we as a people can't have too much pride.