July 3, 2003
O.C. Finds Itself in a State of ‘Jewtopia’
The hit play "Jewtopia" began when Sam Wolfson and Bryan Fogel envisioned two guys at a temple singles mixer with "Hava Nagila" pumping. "We decided the gentile was there because he likes Jewish girls, and the Jew was there because of family pressure," Fogel said.
The scene evolved into an irreverent comedy about Adam (Wolfson), a Jew who dislikes Jewish women, and Chris (Fogel), a non-Jew who lusts after them. It includes over-the-top riffs on cliches such as JAPs, cheesy Purim carnivals, theme bar mitzvahs and the politically incorrect word shvartze. The goal is to "lovingly exploit Jewish stereotypes the way plays like 'Nunsense' exploit Catholic ones," Wolfson said.
While the authors initially worried the piece might offend viewers, the opposite occurred. Since its May debut, "Jewtopia" has consistently sold out West Hollywood's Coast Playhouse and drawn groups from organizations as diverse as JDate and the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Orange County.
Two JCC nights proved so popular that a third is set for July 20. "We're still talking about it," the center's Marlisse Marcus said of the play. "Like when people take forever to order in a restaurant, we'll go, 'That's just like the Jews in 'Jewtopia.' The play is hysterical and makes an impression on anyone who's ever been single, which actually is everyone."
The Orange County participants also made an impression on the playwrights. "They took pictures of us outside the theater and asked for our autographs," Wolfson said. "It was like we were real Hollywood celebrities."
The authors, both 30, were struggling actors when they began creating what would become "Jewtopia" last year. Because they wanted a short piece to perform at one-act festivals, they improvised a sketch set at a synagogue mixer. "Jewtopia" was born when ex-Paramount chief Frank Yablans saw the piece and urged them to write a full-length play.
For material, the authors turned to their Jewish roots. Wolfson, of Jacksonville, Fla., remembered how he dressed up as "Miami Vice" star Don Johnson at his bar mitzvah party. Fogel, raised "Conservadox" in Denver, recalled how guilty he felt when he married a non-Jew.
In the play, Fogel's Hungarian wife becomes Rachel the Mongolian, who shocks Adam's parents at the family seder. Adam's mom, like Wolfson's, insists it's his duty to marry Jewish. She leaves the kind of messages Wolfson receives on his voice mail: "My relatives will call and say, ' I want you to phone Allison Steingold. I haven't spoken with her, but her mother's friend's canasta partner says she's very pretty.'"
The characters' JDate exploits also reflect Wolfson's experience. "Firetushy is real," he said of one woman's screen name. "Jewable is real."
Mining cliches struck gold for the novice playwights when Yablans agreed to raise one-third of "Jewtopia's" $80,000 budget and to produce it at the prestigious Coast Playhouse. Acclaimed theater director Andy Fickman ("Reefer Madness!") signed on because the characters "reminded me of my Jewish family," he told The Journal.
Nevertheless, the authors appeared to panic during an interview just before opening night two months ago. While fiddling with his briefcase full of allergy medications -- another stereotype in the play -- Fogel worried he'd be perceived as self-hating. "But we're nice Jewish boys who love our mothers," he said, administering a squirt of nasal spray. "We don't mean any harm."
Both authors were relieved when audiences appeared to agree. "Jewtopia" is playing at the Coast through Aug. 10, two months longer than expected. Off-Broadway venues such as the Manhattan Theatre Club have expressed interest in booking the show.
The authors, meanwhile, are fielding calls from A-list agents who hope to sign them. "This is so surreal," Fogel said of his newfound success. "Because I'm a nervous, neurotic person, I'm convinced it all could disappear in an instant."
The more laid-back Wolfson has a different concern.
"Please say in the article that I'm looking for a nice Jewish girl," he told a reporter. "And send all inquiries to my mother."
To attend the July 20 JCC event and to find out about other possible "Jewtopia" outings, call (714) 755-0340, ext. 135. For tickets to other "Jewtopia" performances, call (877) TIX-4JEW.