Historians have indicated there were roughly 50,000 Jews in Rome when Caesar reigned and the same number under Mussolini. Beyond the obvious assimilation, it's clear Jews and Italians know how to coexist. No wonder the two peoples lived in adjoining neighborhoods on the Lower East Side and in Brooklyn.
Steve Solomon, whose one-man show "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish, & I'm in Therapy" is playing at the Brentwood Theater, comes from Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay and is the product of a mixed marriage.
For the show, the stage is filled with kitsch -- a sign on a bookshelf, constructed in children's block letters, reads OFFICE; there's also a framed Campari poster and a picture of two zaftig women enjoying the sun and cocktails. This psychiatrist's office is not simply a cluster of cultural clichés; there's the promise of something more -- in a piano at the left side of the stage and a telescope on the right.
An adept impressionist, Solomon imitates his Old World Italian and Jewish relatives, as well as Jamaicans, Indian taxi drivers, pet dogs, even metal detectors. While many comedians draw upon the clashes between their parents, few would characterize them as Solomon does in a phone interview -- "the cup is half-full for my dad; for my mom, it's half-empty with poison in it."
While Jews famously make good comics, Solomon says that Italians make even better comics: "They hit you when they talk to you. They smack you all the time. By the time you leave, you come away black and blue."
In one of his funniest bits in the show, he recalls exhuming "dead" silverware, contaminated by both meat and milk, and being apprehended by the police.
Solomon tells stock scatological, sexual and ethnic jokes, but there is a tinge of melancholy when he plays "Rhapsody in Blue," as well as an original composition on the piano for his Bubbe, who then passes away.
You get the sense that he might want to stare out that telescope and seek out distant ports of call, at least New York, the next stop on his tour.
"My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm in Therapy" runs through April 9 at the Brentwood Theater. For tickets, call (213) 365-3500.