AVI HOFFMAN 370.
(photo credit: Facebook via JTA)
Over the course of his 90-minute one-man show, Avi Hoffman never reveals why he
feels the need to remind his audience that he’s still Jewish. It’s hard to
imagine how anyone could forget.
The 55-year-old’s Avi Hoffman: Still
Jewish After All These Years is an extended showcase of the undeniable
Jewishness of his career, from his beginnings in Yiddish theater to his
invitation to audition for the role of “Benjamin the shlubby Jew” on Law &
Order. With help from a multimedia slide show, Hoffman recounts his 40-year
“I have every photograph, every program, every
article and every review of everything I’ve ever done since I was four years
old,” Hoffman told SouthFlorida.com (the show originated, appropriately, in Boca
Raton). Over 90 minutes, he has time to display a large swath of his
The show is an unapologetic nostalgia trip, larded like
Bubbie’s chicken soup with plenty of schmaltz. Accompanied by the piano stylings
of Michael Larsen, Hoffman faces the audience with the gravitas and ease of a
veteran showman, working the cramped quarters of the Triad Theater on
Manhattan’s Upper West Side like a comedian from the Borscht Belt (the show also
features a memorable Jackie Mason impression).
When he mentions working
with Yiddish masters like Molly Picon or the legendary theater producer Joe
Papp, the theater filled with appreciative sighs.
It was a very Yiddish
crowd on Monday night, and included Hoffman’s mother, who has written a weekly
column in the Yiddish Forward for 30 years.
Still Jewish hits some odd
notes over its 90 minutes; during a medley of songs from Hoffman’s favorite
Jewish rockers – Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Billy Joel – Hoffman performs the
unlikely feat of transposing “Mrs. Robinson” into a rousing musical-theater
ballad, warbling the “whoa whoa whoas” in a saucy vibrato that would no doubt
make Simon smack his head into the nearest wall.
And when describing a
Japanese-language production of Fiddler on the Roof, Hoffman gesticulates like a
kung fu master and utters a series of (karateinspired?) yelps that veer
dangerously into racist caricature territory.
Many of Hoffman’s jokes
have the quality of shopworn standards. Though the room filled with appreciative
laughter, one got the sense that the audience was laughing in recognition of
punch lines they’d heard again and again.
Midway through the show,
Hoffman faced the audience, sat on the stage and sang low into the microphone.
It was his favorite Billy Joel ballad: “Don’t Go Changing.”
surprisingly apt for a show pitched to please an audience looking for a trip
down memory lane, or whatever that particular avenue was called in the Jewish
Bronx of the 1950s. For those of a certain age, the show is delicious for its
familiarity, like the taste of your 40,000th kosher dill pickle. Still Jewish is
sometimes sweet, sometimes sour – but rarely, if ever, surprising.