The Old Jew | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Old Jew 

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The Old Jew, RKO Productions, at Cafe Voltaire. Given the bleak subject matter of this one-man drama, Reid Ostrowski's decent-but-not-awe-inspiring performance, and the fact that Ostrowski scheduled it on the Sabbath so that no practicing Jew would ever attend, precious few people will wind up seeing The Old Jew. That's strangely appropriate, for Murray Schisgal's observations on the imminent disappearance of Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jewish immigrants are all the more resonant in an empty theater.

Schisgal's play concerns a spry but bitter and lonely old man who regrets that he's survived so long and rails against neighbors who are indifferent to his plight. Ostrowski's performance is part genuine, part humorless Mel Brooks routine, and part stereotype. Doddering onstage in bad makeup that makes him resemble a shepherd outside of Isaac Bashevis Singer's city of Chelm, Ostrowski turns in a performance that's a model of consistency, if not always of credibility.

The play's climax, in which the Old Jew's resentment spews forth in a cathartic rage, is astutely and chillingly rendered, but Schisgal's ironic conclusion, which hammers home his chagrin over a dying Jewish culture, rings false. And though some of Schisgal's points are well taken and Ostrowski dramatizes them poignantly, I'd sooner recommend an evening in shul.

--Adam Langer

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