'Bernie's Bar Mitzvah' revels in theatrics of a family tradition

October 24, 1991|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

A very entertaining simulation of a Jewish bar mitzvah is being celebrated at the Fells Point Cabaret Theatre tonight through Dec. 15.

In "Bernie's Bar Mitzvah," written, produced and directed by Howard Perloff, there are 34 performers (including the musicians and female vocalist) working the show.

Although it is very theatrical the work is not a play. It is a "happening." The action takes place at the extravagant festivities following the solemn bar mitzvah ceremony in the synagogue in which the boy of the hour, Bernie Bernstein, 13, takes his first step into the adult world of Judaism.

As in an actual bar mitzvah there is a lavish cocktail party, a sit-down dinner and dancing. The audience members are "guests" at the affair and are invited to dance the variety of contemporary and Jewish tunes with the cast.

Perloff employs a lot of amusing show biz devices. The fun lies in not knowing who are the real guests and who are the actors.

During the gala activities (as in most clan gatherings) family jealousies are revealed, tempers flare and feelings are crushed.

Proud parents Mark and Judy (Howard Segal, Leslie Gold) beam as guests enter the formal elegance of the black and white reception area.

A jovial rabbi (Louis Levy) introduces himself around the tables as the representative of "your temple of choice in the suburbs."

Young Bernie (Ian Bonds) scampers about getting into mischief with his cousins. His father vows he will not take him to the Star Trek Convention if he does not behave. Judy is suddenly miffed when her younger sister Carol (Laura Covello) appears wearing the same elaborate dress. A screeching fight ensues but violence is averted.

Grandparents Sam and Sara (Barney Cohen, Sabine Herts), Irving and Mildred (Ben Blum, Marjorie Orman) squabble over a tray of lobsters because the seafood is not kosher. Uncle Robert (Kevin Strutavant) delivers a funny speech about what life is like being Gentile in a Jewish family.

During the traditional lighting of the 13 candles, one grandmother says she is giving several pieces of her valuable jewelry (sealed forever in the vault) to Bernie and his sister as the other grandmother looks sourly on.

The Bernstein's housekeeper (Linda Jones) sings "When the Saints Come Marching in" loud and lustily. Bernie blows out the ** candles on his huge bar mitzvah cake and everyone cheers.

There is the customary chair raising during the traditional Russian-Jewish dance with a seated Bernie (and later members of his family) held aloft in the air. Unfortunately, his mother takes an embarrassing tumble when the chair is lowered to the floor.

"Bernie's Bar Mitzvah" adds up to happy, good-time revelry. All the performers improvise their parts well but Perloff could inject a few more clashing-of-the-relatives incidents and incorporate some sort of running theme that would be resolved at the end of the celebration.

Also, Bernie should have much more to say and do. Although Perloff does not want to spoof the actual temple rite, Bernie could, perhaps, recite part of his memorized sermon from the religious service. This could be comical or poignant.

The band led by emcee Tony DeFabritus is excellent and singer Heidi Williams executes the many songs nicely.

Theatre Morgan has opened its 1991-92 season with their student production of the powerful tome, "EL HAJJ MALIK," by N.R. Davidson Jr. The production continues tonight through Saturday in the Murphy Fine Arts Center on the campus of Morgan State University.

Davidson's work, a strong choral presentation, lyrically expresses the life and times of the controversial African-American figure who embraced the strong Black Muslim teachings of Elijah Muhammad.

Directed by C. Thomas Johnson the play, using horrifying graphic slides, takes the audience on a journey from the man's impoverished beginnings to his assassination in 1965.

Difficult to stage because of its ensemble nature, the Morgan production certainly makes a noble effort to show the zealous determination of this often misunderstood black pioneer to make African Americans everywhere aware of their heritage.

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