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A Chanukah Charol
By Elyse Sommer
Of all the actors who've tackled Ebenezer Scrooge, the old meanie who ends up being loving and kind, none have been more memorable and less cartoonish than Patrick Stewart. Smart move then for Jackie Hoffman to use Patrick Stewart to introduce A Chanukah Charol, her own solo take on this epitome of a feel-good holiday story for the whole family.
As for giving the famous Dickens story a Jewish twist per the portmanteau title, who more attuned to Scrooge's grumpy personality than Hoffman, the queen of side-splitting stand-up kvetch? Who indeed! After all, Hoffman's kvetching is a way of saying "Bah! Humbug." The big difference is, of course, that whatever you call it, Hoffman's complaining always has the audience in stitches -- and judging from the gales of laughter permeating the audience at New World Stages last Sunday night, whether you trim a tree or light up a menorah for Hannukah, her Chanukah Charol is no exception.
As Jackie-via-Hoffman makes clear, she's as cheerless about Hannukah as Scrooge is about Christmas, but while she's got plenty of reasons to kvetch about this and other holidays, her rants are not as heavily flavored with ex-rated language as her Joe's Pub solos, no doubt in deference to keeping the show family friendly. (Not that she by-passes expletives and outrageous political incorrectness completely as when she calls autism a racket, adding "Your child doesnít talk. Youíre child canít get a word in edgewise, cause you donít shut the f. .k up." Neither are there any of the usual original songs.
As long as I'm mentioning what NOT to expect: Hoffman never gets out of the leggings topped by a simple blue dress to don the magician's costume on the cover of the program, the posters advertising the show or the pictures supplied by the show's press agent, nor does she spin a dreidel. What she and frequent co-writer and director Michael Schiralli Hoffman do spin is an amusing semi-autobiographical journey of a "self-loathing Jew" and second banana in search of chief banana or diva fame.
Jackie's self-loathing Jewish Scrooge encounters plenty of Ghosts like the Yiddish actress Molly Picon, and her own Tiny Tim, a deformed Korean delivery boy Hoffman-named Tiny Kim. Like Patrick Stewart, all these voices are of course Hoffman's. No wonder that when true to Dickens she's looking toward the 3rd ghost and finds "a figure, faceless cloaked and draped" she assumes it to be "the ghost of Chanukahs yet to be? " who "doesnít talk, right?" she happily declares "Good, one less character voice." But her relief comes too soon. that ghost brings a vision of the divadom she's so avidly yearned for to come via the starring role in a reality show called-- yup,"Ugly Jew."
Given that hilarious ghostly preview of what super stardom might entail, it's easy to see why A Chanukah Charol brings our self-hating Jewish Scrooge to her gig at Temple Beth Sholom in Queens, no longer an Ugly, self-hating Jerw no longer but happy to celebrate Hanukah — as well as the fast of Esther, and Purim, and tu bshevat, and Lag Bomer, and Passover, and Shavuoth, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and Sukkoth and Simchat Torah!"
I defy you to find a therapist who could provide as much of a personalty change (and fun) in his or her 50 minute hour. On the other hands, therapists work year round. Jackie Hoffman's charoling is a strictly limited run of three performances.
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