Marilyn Sokol had a gut feeling about joining the Off-Broadway cast of OLD JEWS TELLING JOKES. Based on a series of popular YouTube videos of the same name, the "Old Jews" stage version serves up 90 minutes of stories and quips stacked like an overstuffed funny-on-rye.
When Sokol heard the title of the play, she was more than intrigued. "The name of the show cracked me up," she said. "They had me at hello."
Sokol, who teaches at Lehman College when she's not performing, was thrilled when her agent called her about the part of "Bunny," one of the five characters who trade or share the stage in rapid-fire bits. "What can I tell you? I was so busy teaching and I heard the website was great," Sokol said. "It all happened so quickly. My agent called and described this as not being like stand-up."
A favorite story among the troupe has Sokol relating an exchange between a party host and an inebriated guest involving a parrot and – shall we say – a breach of party etiquette. Another gem has Sokol as a beautiful sheep. Watch for the eye movements.
The borscht-dipped fare encircles the realm of Jewish humor – sly word play, double entendre, the anatomical, the scatological and the world-weary illogical.
Audience response has been incredibly positive, Sokol said. "And of course you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy the show," she noted.
"I knew this was going to be a great experience," said the veteran character actor, whose accolades in the course of a five-decade career in film, theater and television include an Emmy, an Obie and enshrinement in the Smithsonian Institution (her Dial-a-Jokes).
The entire ensemble is steeped in acting experience, not comedic one-nighters. "We're not stand-ups," said Sokol, "it's just so different from that world and we are playing different characters for each joke or situation we set up. Each character changes a lot during the show and we're all different kinds of actors but we're all very good comic actors."
"Old Jews," directed by Marc Bruni and created by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent, pays tribute to and reinvents classic jokes of the past and present. The other veteran actors in the show are Bill Army, Todd Susman, Audrey Lynn Weston, Lenny Wolpe and pianist Donald Corren.
"I consider myself an old Jew," Sokol admitted. "After all I'm now celebrating my 47th year in the business." All of the roles she has played are like her children, she said. "So this current kid is wonderful and perfect for audiences with short attention spans, since we go from one situation to another pretty quickly."
The seamless show is packed with comic vignette after vignette, some a little racier than others. But always with a lot of heart and comedic spins, Sokol added. Some audiences laugh uncontrollably, sometimes cracking up the performers.
"And there will be other jokes as time goes on, so if people come more than once they won't necessarily be hearing the same story," Sokol promised. "This ensemble just came together like honey," she continued. "We each derive a great deal of fun out of the work. We are constantly paying very close attention to one another and we do manage to crack each other up along the way."
"This is a dream come true working with these lovely and talented people," Sokol said. "It's a blessing in so many ways to be part of this, the writing, the stage management it's all fantastic. We were a lovely group even before the reviews came out," Sokol said with a laugh.
The show opened in May to favorable reviews and Sokol anticipates a lengthy run. "It should run years!" she said. "Years!"