Routine simply skims the surface

Review: After listening to Jaffe Cohen's stories from `The King of Kings and I,' you may come out entertained, but not necessarily informed.

November 03, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"The King of Kings and I," Jaffe Cohen's autobiographical one-man show at the Theatre Project, is slight stuff -- barely more than a stand-up comedy routine.

The last time Cohen was here, in 1992, he was one-third of the comedy trio known as "Funny Gay Males." His cohorts are missed this time around.

Granted, Cohen's current material -- essentially a portrait of the artist as a gay, Jewish young man -- is a bit more universal than his previous bit. And he's still funny ("I ... tried to take a mime class, but I failed it. I'm Jewish. I can't keep my mouth shut.")

Yet "The King of Kings and I," which runs about an hour, simply doesn't have enough substance or theatricality to merit presentation in a theater, as opposed to a comedy club.

To his credit, Cohen is at least somewhat aware of this. A nebbishy, bespectacled man with thinning hair, he acknowledges that he's a nervous sort and even says of his acting ability, "You may have noticed I'm not Meryl Streep up here."

He's also sufficiently likable to make you want to overlook how ill-at-ease he appears. (On the night I attended, he started one story someplace in the middle, then had to backtrack to explain.)

His show consists of a string of stories, as opposed to fleshed-out sketches or situational humor. Punctuated with his letters to his mother, the stories begin in the Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood where Cohen and his family lived until he was 7. He then talks about the predominantly Roman Catholic suburb on Long Island where he spent the rest of his formative years. From there, Cohen's life story progresses to a state university, an Arizona commune, a Pentecostal sect in Berkeley and back home again.

The stories are interesting and humorous, even if, under Michael Zam's rather laissez-faire direction, they aren't always told in the most interesting manner. Instead of setting the scene or taking us into his confidence, Cohen skims the surface -- translating his experiences into a series of one-liners. His crisis of faith comes across less as an actual crisis than an opportunity to gather more comic fodder. At the end of the evening, you may be glad you spent some time with Jaffe Cohen, but you won't feel you really got to know him.

`The King of Kings and I'

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Through Nov. 20

Tickets: $15

Call: 410-752-8558

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