May 15, 2003
A State of ‘Jewtopia’
"We're nice Jewish boys who love our mothers," Sam Wolfson said. "We don't mean any harm," said his pal, Bryan Fogel.
Wolfson and Fogel feel nervous because they've written and are starring in an irreverent play, "Jewtopia," about a Jew who dislikes Jewish women (Wolfson), and a non-Jew who adores them (Fogel). They've included over-the-top riffs on clichés such as theme bar mitzvahs, cheesy Purim carnivals, JAPS and the politically incorrect word, shvartze. They say they intended to humorously but lovingly exploit Jewish stereotypes the way plays like "Nunsense" exploit Catholic ones -- but they're aware viewers could take offense.
"We never meant the play to be taken seriously," Wolfson said. "We're poking fun at ourselves."
"Jewtopia" began when the struggling actors, now 30, sat down to write a scene to perform at one-act festivals last year. They envisioned two guys at a singles mixer with "Hava Nagila" pumping in the background and "decided the gentile, Chris, was there because he likes Jewish girls, and the Jew, Adam, [was there] because of family pressure," Fogel said.
When ex-Paramount chief Frank Yablans saw the piece and urged them to write a full-length play, the actors mined their lives for material. Fogel's non-Jewish Hungarian wife became 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. When the characters surf JDate, Wolfson also drew on his recent experience.
"'Firetushy' is real," he said of one woman's screen name. "'Jewable' is real.'"
Mining stereotypes struck gold for the novice playwrights 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, while fiddling with his briefcase full of allergy medications -- another stereotype in the play -- Fogel worried about being perceived as a "bad Jew."
Wolfson had 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."
The play runs through June 8. For tickets, call (800) 595-4849, or visit www.jewtopiaplay.com. n
(From left) Bryan Fogel, Lin Shaye and Sam Wolfson star in the world premiere of "Jewtopia." Photo by Michael Lamont