Review: Hal Linden and Bernie Kopell Kibitz Through History in Two Jews, Talking
The TV vets star in Ed. Weinberger's comedy at the Theatre at St. Clement's.
Do nostalgia and jokes about the Ten Commandments ever get old?
Perhaps so. Certainly both are prominent in Two Jews, Talking, a slight pair of playlets starring a couple of fondly remembered 1970s television stars, Hal Linden of Barney Miller fame and The Love Boat's Bernie Kopell. Combine their ages and they've been around for 180 years.
Now they're working with material scripted by another elder statesman from the TV comedy world, Emmy winner Ed. Weinberger, who wrote for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and co-created Taxi. Each of his short plays, set 3,500 years apart and directed by Dan Wackerman, is more akin to an overlong comedy sketch or the pilot of a potential sitcom, and most jokes register as mildly amusing instead of full-on funny, even the ones about God's rulebook.
Still, there's pleasure to be had from watching two actors who are old enough to remember FDR's presidency spending their weekends cracking jokes in an off-Broadway theater. They're surely not doing it for the money.
As odd as it may seem, the opening tableau (set and lighting by Harry Fiener) calls to mind Waiting for Godot: A small barren tree sits in the background and Lou (Linden) has been dealing with uncomfortable boots (costumes by Anthony Paul-Cavaretta). And depending on your interpretation of Beckett's masterpiece, the subject matter may not be all that different, though the method of expression certainly is.
The first part, set in the Sinai desert in biblical times, features Lou and Bud (Kopell) taking a break from decades spent roaming the desert with Moses. Befitting of their Abbott and Costello names, Kopell's character plays the straight man to Linden's kvetcher, who is fed up with their leader, griping that "not once in 30 years has he stopped and asked for directions."
Lou, it seems, was happier as a well-fed, orgy-going slave in Egypt. Don't get him started on God and the Commandments. He'd rewrite No. 10 as "Covet all you like, just don't touch."
After that opening morsel, the next section flashes forward to the present. Marty (Linden), who has come from visiting a dying friend at Mount Sinai Hospital, strikes up a conversation with Phil (Kopell), also coping with aging and loss, and the elderly men sit on a park bench on Long Island discoursing about God, the afterlife, women, children, their own parents, and growing old.
Weinberger offers some clever one-liners about topics like the cost of health care ("I had a dental plan that didn't cover teeth," Phil deadpans) and climate change ("The Empire State Building will become a four-story walk-up," Marty predicts).
But Linden and Kopell, both of whom can still deliver pungent punch lines, aren't playing a couple of curmudgeons kvetching about the state of the world and their plights in it. Their dialogue and its old-school humor reveal a reluctant acceptance of aging and what comes next, themes that deepen in the play's final moments.
Overall, seeing the 70-minute Two Jews, Talking is the theatrical equivalent of watching a couple of classic sitcom episodes on a nostalgia channel. Even if the jokes don't always hold up, the company is welcome.