What does it mean to be a Jew today? That's the main question asked in Michael Takiff’s clever if convoluted solo show Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order), currently playing The Siggy Theater at The Flea. In a series of dizzyingly disparate segments that include a recounting of God's covenant with Abraham, a seminar on how to be a good Jew, a tirade against Christmas, a Las Vegas stand-up routine by God himself, and a personal narrative about the death of Takiff's father, that question eventually gets answered...sort of.
I'll lead with the good. Takiff (writer and performer of the show, directed by Brian Lane Green) is a very clever humorist and gets plenty of hearty, well-deserved laughs. While many of the jokes probably wouldn't land with a Gentile audience, they're perfectly calculated to get a knowing laugh from the target market, aka, Jews. The show gets off to an encouraging start, and I would have enjoyed it much more if it had stuck to the tongue-in-cheek, gently self-mocking tone it seemed to promise in the beginning.
But alas, one thing in particular looms heavy over Takiff's otherwise comic show, and that is, as he--or more accurately, his characterization of God as an insensitive stand-up comedian--calls it: "the Big H."
It's not that I'm adverse to talking about the Holocaust. Obviously, it's a vital part of the Jewish experience, and definitely one that can't--and shouldn't--be ignored. But the way Takiff, and particularly, his characterization of God, treats the subject is frankly rather disquieting. Similarly, I'm not adverse to jokes about God, or to shows that challenge assumptions about religion. It's just that I want it to be done in a way that doesn't wildly offend both my Jewish and Christian identities. Takiff's God is anti-Semitic. And while I understand that Takiff has deliberately characterized him that way to make a point, the show itself is too much of a tonal mess to sustain whatever point that is.
In between disturbing takes and pastrami jokes, Takiff spends a large portion of the show sharing his own experience growing up Jewish. He talks about his childhood Yom Kippur experience, when he metaphorically saw God through a devout, charismatic rabbi in Elizabeth, New Jersey; and the devastating death of his father in the hospital on Christmas morning. Here's another direction the show could have taken: a sincere, conflicted memoir of Takiff's Jewish upbringing and the struggles of remaining Jewish in today's world. "Conflicted" is perhaps the key word here. Being a Jew today means a lot of things, many of them conflicting. Maybe that’s why Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order) feels at war with itself.
It's unfortunate, because this show has potential and could be something much greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps, with a little revision, it will get there yet. In the meantime, my feelings on the show are best summed up not by "feh," just "meh."
'Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order)' runs through June 5th at The Siggy Theater at The Flea (20 Thomas Street). For more information and to purchase tickets, see the link below: