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THEATER REVIEW : As Predictable as Corned Beef on Rye

September 10, 1993|PAT LAUNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN DIEGO — Welcome to the Maraschino Cherry Orchard. The new kids on the block are replacing the Old Order in "The King of the Kosher Grocers" (at the Old Globe's Cassius Carter Centre Stage), but it's the same old syrupy sitcom Fantasyland we see nightly on television. Every cloud has a silver lining and every mini-crisis has a facile resolution. The check is always in the mail, old men revive their moribund sexuality, and matzo can sit on the shelf for 50 years without getting stale.

First-time playwright Joe Minjares is an actor and stand-up comedian who writes eminently deliverable laugh lines that are devoid of resonance or depth. His seven characters are drawn from a reheated multicultural (and stereotypical) smorgasbord--bland, crowd-pleasing, lukewarm and a far cry from the old Minneapolis neighborhood. A few blacks, a Latino, some Jews and a token bureaucratic WASP trade good-natured barbs and heartfelt hugs in the corner store.

For a half century, Izzie Silvers (Kurt Knudson) has been the deli king in a changing neighborhood threatened by low-income housing development. He knows all his customers by name, and he spends his days schmoozing with his lifelong buddies, Elvis Mooney (Ed Bernard) and Joe Chavez (Sam Vlahos). The electrical inspector (Michelle Breaugh) is hounding him, his health is failing, and young Jamar Mooney (Kevin Jackson) has all kinds of plans for re-kindling the clientele. Will Izzie lose the store to the inspector-hounds? Will he let Jamar take over? You don't have to tune in next week to find out.

The seasoned actors deftly lob one-liners across the counters of the finely detailed grocery store set (designed by Joel Fontaine), but the play is thoroughly predictable. First produced last year by the Mixed Blood Theatre Company in Minneapolis, this West Coast premiere is a feel-good visit with characters we've seen a hundred times, laugh-track graciously provided by a live audience.

Director Craig Noel meticulously re-creates a locale with plenty of particulars and strong technical support. But the Old Globe, in its selection of new plays, has repeatedly shown that it would rather be safe than sorry. This reviewer, for one, is sorry that they play it so safe.

* "The King of the Kosher Grocers," Cassius Carter Centre Stage, Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego, (619) 239-2255. . Tuesdays-Sundays, 8 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday matinees, 2 p.m. Ends Oct. 17. $18-$32.

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