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Mining Family Affairs for Comedic Gold
Steve Solomon is too much of a gentleman to disclose the exact amount, but it is pretty clear that he makes a decent living from therapy.
Make that “therapy.” In the 10 years since the 60-something former high school physics teacher’s first one-man show, My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy, was first performed, he has gone on to write two more shows and give more than 3,000 performances of his work.
The native of the multicultural section of Brooklyn known as Sheepshead Bay — where, as a child, he first developed his prodigious talent for mimicking dialects — will display that talent beginning Sept. 17 at Bristol Riverside Theatre as he inhabits over 20 characters in his play, My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m Still in Therapy.
So, is there anything different about this play other than the extra word in the title? Solomon says that, while many of the characters from his first show will be in this one, including his parents, Dumb Cousin Kenny (“We’d take him to the park and say, ‘Kenny, look at the dead bird!’ And he would look up!”) and a gravel-throated, three-pack-a-day sister who sounds like a hybrid of Harvey Fierstein and Elizabeth Ashley, the play is all new.
Set in the clubhouse of his father’s South Florida retirement community, Solomon’s play, with its huge cast of characters, utilizes the same elements as his first show. “Everybody in the audience identifies with something in the show,” Solomon says. “I think that is what has led to its success.”
What led Solomon to abandon a career in education after 18 years as a teacher and administrator? “I hated the bureaucracy — I couldn’t stand the nonsense,” he explains, adding that he had wanted to work in comedy as long as he could remember. “But my family was always worried about my job security,” he recalls. “Sometimes, though, you gotta follow your heart.”
He didn’t go into his new career cold. He had been writing comedy for years, from doing charity roasts at his mother’s church and his father’s synagogue to crafting jokes for the likes of Henny Youngman and Joey Adams — all for free in a sort of extended unpaid internship.
“I got such a kick out of hearing my stuff live that I never charged for it,” he says. And, he adds, teaching requires a stage presence, although unlike in a nightclub, in the classroom, “your audience can’t leave. Well, they could, but they would get in trouble.”
Those days are long gone. After finishing up his current 40-week tour of his second play, Solomon will begin preparing to bring My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m Home for the Holidays, to Broadway in 2014 — his third straight play to hit the Great White Way. Not bad for someone whose family used to tell him, “If you’re not Frank Sinatra, you’re not an entertainer.”
IF YOU GO
My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m Still in Therapy
Opening Sept. 17
Bristol Riverside Theatre
120 Radcliffe St., Bristol