My Son the Waiter, a Jewish Tragedy Theatre Review
Brad Zimmerman’s My Son the Waiter, which “Zimmy” wrote and stars in, opens with a string of Borscht Belt jokes. They’re funny, especially for those members of the tribe who grew up with this ethnic humor. Along with much of this show, these one-liners, quips, witticisms, etc., provide a red carpet for strolling down a mirthful memory lane back to when Jewish comics such as Shecky Greene and Buddy Hackett regaled mostly urban audiences vacationing at hotels in the mountains of upstate New York.
The comedian/actor/auteur also good-naturedly kibitzes with ticket buyers. But after about 10 or 15 minutes of Zimmerman’s shtick the nostalgic spell begins to wear off, and we shift gears from high hilarity down to the mildly entertaining. Some may enjoy Zimmy’s zingers and amusing anecdotes. Others might find them to be “Meh.”
Part of the My Son’s problem is that this 80-minute production presented without an intermission is a bit of hybrid. It’s somewhere in between an extended standup act like those delivered at comedy clubs (and occasionally, for big name acts like Eddie Murphy or Sarah Silverman, at concert hall type venues, often to be recorded for films or cable TV specials) and a live one-man show presented onstage at a legit theater. The mixed medium nature of this production seems to work against it. My Son can’t make up its dramaturgical mind and lacks a story arc, character development and the like that theatergoers expect from most one-man - or, for that matter, one-woman - shows.
SubtitledA Jewish Tragedy, the production’s conceit is that Zimmerman eschewed those white collar professions which Jewish mothers stereotypically expect their boychiks to pursue, such as doctors or lawyers.
Subtitled A Jewish Tragedy, the production’s conceit is that Zimmerman eschewed those white collar professions which Jewish mothers stereotypically expect their boychiks to pursue, such as doctors or lawyers. (Although I imagine that the Jewish tragedy of the mother of Michael Cohen - Trump’s fixer, mouthpiece and very own Mickey Cohen - is precisely that he did become an attorney.) Instead, Zimmy, who was not academically inclined, decided to become an actor. In the process, he supported himself as a waiter, and the playwright/performer acts out droll vignettes of his waiting on tables. (As he indicates, this can be a very hard job full of problems, not least of which includes putting up with diners’ kvetching.)
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However, Mrs. Zimmerman - and, I suppose, her son’s - tragedy deepens over the decades as Zimmy’s means of making a living until he hits it big stretches for 30 years-plus. The “temporary” becomes permanent as show biz’s big brass bagel eludes his grasp. Although Zimmerman has some acting credits (most notably in HBO’s The Sopranos) and opened for renowned comics such as Joan Rivers and George Carlin, when it comes to stardom, this waiter wannabe may as well be waiting for Godot. Hence, like many aspiring actors, since nobody else would, Zimmy has written his own vehicle for him to star in. According to the playbill, Zimmerman performed My Son Off Broadway (which said playbill helpfully points out is located in New York) for 15 months and has toured it nationally.
(BTW, in terms of “Jewish tragedies”, considering the tumultuous history of the Chosen People, including the recent carnage at Gaza, Zimmerman’s failure to hit it big onstage and onscreen pales in comparison. But that’s another story - don’t me started…)
Another problem is the ethnic-specific nature of My Son’s story and humor - will goys get the jokes? I honestly don’t know the answer to this question. I’ve always felt that Woody Allen was the poet laureate of the New York Jews and to fully appreciate his comedy you had to spring from that rarefied milieu. (If memory serves correctly, Zimmerman is from New Jersey - one of what was rather snobbishly, condescendingly called “the bridge and tunnel crowd,” the same way 2018 snobs now look down on those poor non-sophisticates still using flip phones.)
Zimmerman is one of those American Jews who go out of their way to profess that they are not very Jewish - then define and describe themselves by the parameters of their religion and culture. Towards the end of My Son Zimmy waxes philosophical and seems to come to grips with his lot in life, as an apparently single man who will never attain stardom and find true, lasting love. But then again, from his perch on the boards he announces that after the show he’ll be signing (a presumably self-published) memoir in the Colony’s lobby and is launching a stage sequel. Mom may look down on her nice Jewish boy but Zimmy is his own biggest fan. Stardom may continue to elude him but as long as Brad Zimmerman has himself, he’ll never be alone.
Philip Roger Roy & Presley Theater Corp present My Son the Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (oy vey! on the Sabbath!) at 8:00 p.m. and Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through June 10 at the Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third Street, Burbank, CA 91502. For info: (855)448-7469; www.mysonthewaiter.com.