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Jewish ... Italian ... A Mixed Blessing?

December 14, 2006 By:
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What's all this kreplach about Jews and Italians sharing one mind and a million gestures? Show who believes this by a show of hands!

And it is in such handiwork -- ever see a Jew and an Italian talking together? It's like a case study in semiotics -- that Steve Solomon has made the wisest of choices: splitting his heritage in two -- and packing it with some Prozac punchlines -- that makes his "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish and I'm in Therapy" a Freudian slipcover for neurotic couch potatoes everywhere.

"Italian/Jewish/Therapy" is a comedy not just for mangia-depressive and those suffering from OCD (Oy, Come, Dig in); it's a topical tug-of-war between the totskele and Tony in us all.

Well, it is for Solomon anyway, whose popular one-man show of split personalities -- it's a good thing -- has unusual traveling music: an Oy-Pod mix of some "Rigoletto" and a bissele Cantor Rosenblatt.

Now that he's settled in for a long run at the Little Shubert Theatre in New York, one question only an Italian/Jewish mother would ask: Stevele, Steverino, why the Little Shubert? You couldn't make the big one?

It's all a big deal, says Solomon, enjoying the attention and acclaim after touring extensively, and now awaiting the word of welcome at the Little Shubert from Little Italy and Little Israel in New York.

"Twice the holidays! Twice the hollering! Twice the guilt!" his advance promos pronounce.

Twice the treat? More -- a dialectician with a delectable sense of humor, he brings 30 characters, tongues-in-cheek and twisted, too, to the stage.

Billy Crystal clearly had his "700 Sundays"; this is more "700 Tsuris."

Joy to the World
"It really wasn't like that," says Solomon, of what it meant being raised by a Jewish dad and Italian Mom. "I had a joyful -- if chaotic -- upbringing."

That would be by the bay -- Sheepshead Bay -- where the Brooklyn boychick learned that "eat this" could be both a dinner command and an invitation to rumble.

Chrismukkuh came early for Solomon, but what's better than eight packages of linguini left underneath the Chanukah menorah?

A mixed blessing? At this stage ... well, here he is on stage with so many alter egos, he can talk in his own language: Italyenta.

Well, there are exaggerations of character, he concedes.

How does his family take it -- besides comically on the chin? "They went to court, and had my artistic license revoked."

That'll teach him a lesson. But he was a teacher -- a physics teacher, which may explain his chemistry with an audience -- and a school administrator before subjecting it all to early dismissal.

"I was such a bad fit for a bureaucracy. I was mishugah."

Crazy for laughs? He honed his act at comedy clubs after realizing there was nothing funny about 9-5 jobs: "I was sick and tired of the regular paychecks, the prestige and the educational glamour of an administrator's life. So I decided to get on the road and make 20 bucks a show."

But that was before getting a kick in the kibitzer keister from comic Pat Cooper, who gave him support and a shove in the write direction that made this erstwhile member of the bored of education feel welcome touring and touting his talent before big audiences.

Pinch his memories, and it all comes back with a pinched cheek. "My Bubba Ida -- I never identify her by name in the show -- but what a great lady," he says of a major maternal mamaloshen influence who kept him on the ball.

And at the ballpark. "I took her to see a game once, and when they started singing, 'Take me out to the ball game,' she said, 'Why are they singing that if we're already here?' "

He's arrived. But Solomon's also not delusional about success; the therapy part of his act is schtick, he concedes. "I'm not in therapy ... my kids are," he quips.

Who's kidding who -- so many of his former kids, the students he once taught the theory of relativity, are relating to him as an actor now. "To this day they come backstage and greet me, 'Oh, so you were released.' "

It is a release being on stage, he admits. And you don't have to be Jewish to like his wry humor. "I was doing the show in Butte, Montana," he explains. "One of the audience members came up to me after the show and said, 'You're one of them Jew boys from New York.' "

Pause. "Then, 'Well, you're damn funny.' "

Funny, Solomon considers himself "75 percent Jewish, 25 percent Italian," because the humor as a whole comes out without a sense of fractiousness.

What sells is what any Italian or Jew could verbalize naturally: "Word of mouth sells the show."

That is, of course, when the mouth's open -- and not clamping down on a lasagna latke. 

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