L&S America Online   Subscribe
Home Lighting Sound AmericaIndustry NewsLSA DirectoryEventsContacts

-Today's News

-Last 7 Days

-Business News + Industry Support

-People News

-Product News

-Theatre in Review

-Subscribe to News

-Subscribe to LSA Mag

-News Archive

-Media Kit

-A Theatre Project Book

Theatre in Review: Just for Us (Hudson Theatre)

Alex Edelman. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Beginning with its late 2021 New York debut at the Cherry Lane Theatre, Alex Edelman's scathingly hilarious solo show has moved around town, now occupying Broadway's Hudson Theatre for a summer run. If anything, the piece, about the comedian's bizarre encounter with a white supremacist group, has only grown more relevant. If that's bad news for society at large, the laughter he causes is even more thought-provoking than before; Just for Us is a cold blast of common sense in a world quickly going mad over identity issues, its scalding hilarity stripping away layers of nonsense with ruthless skill.

A few years ago, Edelman, having faced a tsunami of antisemitic messages on his Twitter feed -- which, he admits, he kicked off by getting into an argument with one nasty poster -- decided to drop on in a neo-Nazi organization in Queens, hoping to learn something about the nature of systematized hate. What he finds is an assortment of life's losers: an elderly jigsaw puzzle obsessive, an aggrieved youth with a fondness for kooky code names, and a winsome blonde who fulminates that Jared Kushner is ruining the Trump Administration. Edelman, who leaves no target untouched, uses this last remark on Kushner's obnoxious behavior at the synagogue they both attend. Clearly, nothing escapes his wickedly observant glance.

Indeed, Edelman -- his full name is David Yosef Shimon ben Elazar Reuven HaLevi Alexander Edelman -- is uniquely out of place at this convocation of haters, being the product of a Modern Orthodox family, educated at a yeshiva, and the sibling to a member of the Israeli Winter Olympics team. He is armed with a fusillade of one-liners about his background. Judaism, he notes, is "the Hotel California of religions," a structure from which there is no escape. The glass crushed at Jewish weddings, he notes, is a symbol of "happiness." Recalling his upbringing, he says, "I come from a racist part of Boston...called Boston."

But, back at that meeting in Queens, Edelman finds himself making eyes at that blond, spinning fantasies of their romance spawning a film starring Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg. Soon, he is engaging in conversation with the group, noting, as they stew about the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, how disappointed in life they are. ("So much kvetching," he notes.) This cues a riotous riff on the challenges of being a bigot in the most diverse borough of the country's most diverse city. Improbably, he starts to feel bad for people who would prefer he be eradicated.

This is the central issue of Just for Us, which, ultimately, is about the limits of empathy, a theme explored in several sharply amusing digressions, including a visit to old friends turned vaccine skeptics and a childhood memory of a wildly skewed Yuletide holiday: Edelman's mother, trying to help a Protestant friend mourning the loss of her closest loved ones, hosts a Christmas celebration; it's a bizarrely hybrid affair, held over the strenuous objections of Edelman's father, which leads to a frantic phone call from a scandalized local rabbi. (To the eight-year-old Edelman and his younger brother, the news of Santa Claus is a revelation.) Edelman's rich sense of life's absurdities only sharpens his questions about how one can co-exist with others who hold radically varying points of view, especially if they are empirically wrong or, worse, noxious and dangerous.

Just for Us is co-produced by Mike Birbiglia, who is, Edelman points out in his program note, the undisputed master of such hybrid standup comedy/theatre pieces. And it follows a similar path, establishing a through line yet allowing for multiple detours that ultimately prove to be part of a coherent whole. It's a rapid-fire evening of provocative thoughts and stiletto-sharp gags delivered at a pace that keeps the audience in a constant state of uproar. Edelman's gangly body language -- reminiscent of a marionette loosed from its strings -- and emphatic delivery make a singular impact, ensuring that every bit lands with maximum impact. The piece was originally directed by Adam Brace, Edelman's close collaborator, who, sadly, died in April; Alex Timbers stepped in, ushering the production to Broadway, where it benefits from a classy, understated design package that includes David Korins' simple set, Mike Baldassari's warm lighting, and Palmer Hefferan's crystalline sound.

To be sure, Edelman's take-no-prisoners comedy doesn't even spare him. As his girlfriend coolly observes, it was the height of white supremacy to think that he could walk into a nest of Jew-haters, expecting the evening to turn out all right. He even dismisses his own wit, remarking, "My comedy barely works unless you're from the Upper West Side." The opposite is true: Just for Us hits nerves that affect us all; I can't think of anyone who wouldn't benefit from seeing it. --David Barbour

(7 July 2023)

E-mail this story to a friendE-mail this story to a friend

LSA Goes Digital - Check It Out!

  Follow us on Twitter  Follow us on Facebook