8th Annual Chutzpah! Festival
The Lisa Nemetz International Showcase of Jewish Performing Arts

Dates and Venues 23 February – 2 March 2008 | Norman Rothstein Theatre, Wosk 2nd Stage, and The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

Reviewer Ed Farolan

After an almost 8-hour marathon watching the afternoon performances last Sunday, I started feeling a Jewish streak in me. I even bought a kippa for my head, and started greeting people with Shalom. I got the impression that people thought I was a rabbi.

Chutzpah (pronounced "hootspa") is similar to that interjection in English "oomph," that expression that gets the adrenalin going, an energy revitalizer, so to speak. Indeed, the shows I watched somewhat revitalized me.

The hilarious JAP show (not to be confused with the abbreviated form of Japanese) actually meant Jewish American Princesses.Three really funny stand-up comics from New York -- Cory Kahaney, Jessica Kirson, and Maureen Langan -- had the audience laughing from start to finish in this 90-minute show.

With vintage footage of the original queens of comedy -- Belle Barth, Totie Fields, Jean Carroll, and Betty Walker flashed on the screen, these three contemporary princesses of comedy got the audience teary-eyed and rolling in the aisles with their jokes about Jewish husbands, family, sex, and weight issues.

I particularly enjoyed Langan, who joked about the differences between Irish Catholics and Orthodox Jews. Kahaney joked about how the Spanish in her neighbourhood mispronpounced her name and called her Mrs. Cojones. And the really funny one that got me personally teary-eyed was Jessica Kirson with her making fun of her weight.

Next was "Rose" by American playwright Martin Sherman noted for his "Passage to India." This was an extraordinarily excellent one-woman show by British actress Rosy Frier-Dryden, who immigrated to Canada in the 1970s, and has worked extensively in theatre across Canada.

During the entire 90 minutes, she plays an 80-year old woman sitting in a park bench in Miami Beach recalling her memories beginning with the Ukrainian shtetl where she was born to the Warsaw ghetto during the second world war, to her life in Atlantic City where she talks about the Protestant shiksas' Miss America pageant, and then moving to Florida, and finally, to an Israeli kibutz where she visits her son who has settled there.

As she sits, breathing her last moments, she mourns in sit shiva for the death of a young girl killed by her grandson in the West Bank. This is an excellent script by Sherman and doubly excellent acting by Frier-Dryden.

Following this was "Two in the Bush," written and performed by Tracey Erin Smith. After watching two fantastic shows, I didn't find this show as funny as it was supposed to be. This was actually a sequel to a show with the same title she did last year, and as we all know, sequels aren't as good as the original. It's like watching Stallone doing Rambo 5. You've see one, you've seen them all.

Finally, the finale to my marathon was a delightful performance of emerging opera artist Miri Levi, who sang arias from Handel, Gounod, Verdi, Hahn, Bach, Cilea, and Puccini.

Interspersed were scenes from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro where Levi played Susanna and her fellow singers from her home studio in New York, Anna Kirkland and Pérez González played the other roles. Levi is the daughter of Lisa Nemetz, who died of cancer in 1997, in whose memory The Chutzpah Festival is named.

© 2008 Ed Farolan