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THEATER REVIEW : 'Catskills' Kibitzers Keep the Shtick Rolling

September 30, 1993|JAN BRESLAUER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Did you hear the one about the four tummlers ? They're Borscht Belt-style comics who put their acts together in a package and took it to Broadway. And their show at the Wilshire is a hoot for anyone who likes their shtick pure, simple and well-delivered.

"Catskills on Broadway" is a string of four successive stand-up routines and a four-way finale, with a few added musical and visual touches. But when the performers are of the caliber of Freddie Roman, Louise DuArt, Dick Capri and Mal Z. Lawrence, each of whom weighs in with a 20- to 30-minute set, you don't need more to keep an audience laughing.

The congenial Roman, who conceived the show, introduces each of the kibitzers and acts as emcee. He gets the ball rolling with a seamless monologue that includes a riff on retirees in Florida living for their early-bird dinner specials and condo complex meetings.

DuArt follows with a rapid-fire montage of impersonations. Her Edith Bunker, Cher and Barbara Walters--not to mention Babs' "fwiend" Katharine Hepburn--are spot on. But it's her George Burns that really charms.

Capri, the only Italian among the Jews, has his share of one-liners--like the one about Italian Alzheimer's, "where you forget everything, except the grudge"--but the punch isn't necessarily in the punch line. When he runs a comb through his hair during a seemingly serious discussion of aging, for example, you eventually notice him taking a hair from the comb and attempting to place it back on his head.

Lawrence has the most energetic style. He dissects Atlantic City and more with glee, although it's his extended bit on Jews and food, including a manic account of a Catskills dining hall, that reaches surreal heights.

This is a show that's different things to different people. For those who actually shlepped to the Catskills during the '50s or '60s, it's a hearty whiff of derma nostalgia. But you don't have to have actually gorged at Grossinger's to get it. And you don't, as they say, have to be Jewish.

For younger audiences who've cut their teeth on the shock and hate comedy of Andrew Dice Clay this pristine show should be a revelation. Leave it to finely honed timing, delivery, rhythm and characterization as these pros do, and you don't need to rant, rave or pull stunts to get the yuks.

While there's a Jewish flavor to much of the material, this is the kind of stand-up that shaped American comedy, so it feels more generally familiar than culture-bound. Many of the founding fathers of American humor, after all, trekked through those famous resorts north of New York at one time or another. And their routines are still influencing new generations today.

Topical, it isn't. But "Catskills on Broadway" is proof that the old mishagosh still plays. So who knew?

*"Catskills on Broadway," Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Oct. 17. $22-$45; (213) 480-3232 or (714) 740-2000. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Featuring Freddie Roman, Mal Z. Lawrence, Dick Capri and Louise DuArt.

A presentation of Kenneth D. Greenblatt, Stephen D. Fish and 44 Productions. Associate Producer Sandra Greenblatt. Conceived by Roman. Musical Director Joseph Baker. Production Design Wendall Harrington.

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