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Theater: Sex, lies and Yiddish land on ‘Chutzpah’ couch

by Celia Soudry

January 24, 2008 | 7:00 pm

Marq Del Monte and Heidi Fielek

Marq Del Monte and Heidi Fielek

In a story line that turns a sacred office of psychiatry into a house of fraternizing, a secretary into a jungle cat, a librarian into a sex fiend and a stripper into an academic, writer Mark Troy presents many shocking juxtapositions in the world premiere of his play, "Paging Dr. Chutzpah," at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre in Toluca Lake.

With fists clenched, lips pursed and an overworked libido bursting, high-powered New York psychiatrist Dr. Lester Oronofsky (Marq Del Monte) in the opening act swears off sex, not with casual bar-type encounters, but with his own patients. But in a private, luxurious room down the hall from his office with a clear view of Central Park, the womanizing, sexual deviant is sure to take advantage of his vulnerable clients.

Oronofsky's life, although already out of sorts, gets even more dizzied when his adoring nephew, Herman (Danny Lippin) comes to town, wanting to soak up every moment with his hesitantly loving uncle. Along with his overarching attempts to win his uncle's approval, Herman discovers a dark secret that forces the doctor to question his past and present. Intermixed in the plot is a 32-year-old shy, virgin librarian transformed into a seductively sassy temptress, Bonnie BoBonnie (Colette Freedman); svelte stripper Kitty Gypsy (Heidi Fielek); and delusional secretary Myrna (Alycia Tracy).

The play, directed by Lynne Moses, appeals to an older as well as younger crowd, but the laughs come easier to the latter, writer Troy said. It's fun for the older crowd because they are asking questions, whispering during the show, "what did he say?" or "what did she just do?" Troy's inclusion of Yiddish makes the play more enjoyable for the older crowd, because many have more understanding of the comical phrases -- which are plentiful. Audiences who enjoy Woody Allen's or Neil Simon's humor, with an additional jolt of sexual innuendo and bare bottoms, are certain to appreciate "Chutzpah."

Toluca Lake's 34-seat intimate Sidewalk Studio Theatre harbors a stage the size of an actual doctor's office and a set filled with furniture and props contributed by the cast and crew. One of the large leather chairs in Oronofsky's office is the actual chair in which Troy wrote the play. The baby picture adorning one shelf belongs to a lead actor, Herman (Danny Lippin) and one file cabinet came from the office of producer Kurt Swanson. It was a collaborative effort, Troy said.

The actors worked closely with the writer and director, contributing their own input during the six weeks of rehearsals as to what worked in the play and what did not.

"The first thing you do when rehearsing is throw out the stage directions," Troy said.

Drawing out various versions of the physical set on scratch paper, Troy visualized how the ideal play would materialize. After a year and a half of writing and months of casting and rehearsing, Troy was finally satisfied with the end result.

The clever title is something Troy thought up during a long road trip, driving back from Sedona to Los Angeles and listening to a radio show that mentioned chutzpah in the conversation.

"It makes sense, because the psychiatrist sure has chutzpah," he said.

Thinking back on what inspired him to write the play, Troy said Oronofsky was based on an obnoxious man who was hovering closely over him at a show-business party 10 years ago. Troy is a private man and does not appreciate people invading his space, but is glad he met the obnoxious psychiatrist for "Chutzpah's" sake.

The play is not completely fictional. Troy took a combination of his own life experience and melded it with a character he thought up to satisfy the part of the central character. He wanted the story line to revolve around an uncle-nephew dynamic. Like Oronofsky's character, Troy's own uncle, whom he is close with, is the gem of his family and, according to them, can undoubtedly do no wrong. Unlike some plays that poke fun at Jewish culture in a malicious way, Troy celebrates it by playfully using Yiddish inside jokes, which he hopes will have audiences kvelling and not kvetching.

"Paging Dr. Chutzpah" runs through March 1. Fridays, Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake. For more information, visit http://www.sidewalkstudiotheatre.com

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