CROSSING DELANCEY at Jewish Repertory Theatre is as sweet a rom-com as it comes

THE BASICS:  CROSSING DELANCEY, the 1985 play by Susan Sandler, directed by Steve Vaughan, presented by The Jewish Repertory Theatre of WNY, starring Arin Lee Dandes, Darleen Pickering Hummert, Tina Rausa, RJ Voltz, and Adam Yellen. May 9 – June 1 Thursdays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3:30 and 7:30, Sundays at 2:00 (Sunday May 19 SOLD OUT) (no performances on Fridays) in the Maxine and Robert Sellers Theatre located in the JCC at 2640 N Forest Rd, Getzville, NY 14068   (716) 688-4033

RUNTIME: 2 hours with one intermission

L-R Arin Lee Dandes, Darleen Pickering Hummert, Adam Yellen | Photo by James Gibbons

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  You’ve probably seen the Warner Brothers 1988 film adaptation of this play which premiered at the Jewish Repertory Theatre (the one off-Broadway) in 1985.  Both play and movie hold up very well almost 40 years later.  Isabel, or Izzy, is a modern young woman who lives alone and works in a bookshop where she pines after Tyler, a handsome author.  Every Sunday, Izzy visits her grandmother (Bubbie), who lives in a high-rise apartment in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  Bubbie and her friend Hannah, the matchmaker, have found a “good catch” for Isabel in Sam, “the pickle man.”  This play is Rom Com 101, so of course, Izzy is initially reluctant to have anything to do with Sam, and part of the fun is watching the romance develop.

L-R Darleen Pickering Hummert getting a hug from Arin Lee Dandes, as Izzy | Photo by James Gibbons

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:  What keeps this play fresh is that the characters are a little larger than life.  For example, the matchmaker Hannah (Tina Rausa), whose job might be seen as outdated in 1985, much less today, comes across as more quirky than meddlesome.  Bubbie, the grandmother (Darleen Pickering Hummert), is so full of schtick that she, too, comes across as charming and not overbearing.  R.J. Voltz, as the author and possible love interest for Izzy, keeps you alert as he beautifully walks a fine line, making you wonder if, in this play, he could be “the one.”  Fear not.  He isn’t, but the “dream ballet” danced by Izzy and Tyler to the music of Tchaikovsky is just one of many fine touches to enjoy.

The play is skillfully directed by JRT regular Steve Vaughan so that there are no “minor” roles.  Of course, the romantic leads are the through-line, and Izzy, who could come across as exasperating, does not.  As played by the lovable Arin Lee Dandes, she exudes a clueless vulnerability that keeps us rooting for her.  Her suitor, Sam the pickle man, is played by Adam Yellen (actually Ms. Dande’s husband in real life), an actor who has a special way of inserting humor in even the most prosaic situations.  Not by hamming it up.  Not at all.  He does it, and I’ve seen him do this in play after play, by so fully immersing himself in the character that his “seriousness” becomes beguiling.

David Dwyer’s set is clever, providing a hyper-realistic version of Bubbie’s kitchen, Izzy’s bookstore, and a city park bench, with lighting by Brian Cavanagh. Tom Makar chose the music, much of which comes from the album “Yiddish Love Songs” by Anne-Line, especially before, after, and during intermission.

Yiddish (the language of Jewish immigrants to Manhattan’s Lower East Side) is spoken fairly often in this play.  You don’t need to know Yiddish and some of it I’m sure you’ve heard on TV shows including

Oy! or Oy gevalt!           (Exclamation of alarm)
Bubbie       (Grandmother)
Schmendrick (Poor soul)
Mitzvah      (Good deed)
Shabbos     (The Sabbath)
Gelt   (Money)
Schmataz   (Rags)
Kush mir in tuchas       (Kiss my ass)
Shule           (Synagogue)
L’chaim      (“To life” as in a toast)
Shleps        (Drags or totes)
Nu?   (So?  Or What do you think?)
Machers     (Big Shots)
Yentas        (Gossips)

The title of the play, CROSSING DELANCEY, comes from a story that Sam tells Izzy, about a man who was crossing Delancey Street (a major thoroughfare in the Lower East Side) when his hat blew off and was crushed under a truck.  Instead of replacing his hat with the same old same old, the man tried a new hat.  His life immediately improved.  Later in the play, Sam gives Izzy an attractive new hat (Kari Drozd, costume designer) as a way to encourage her to leave her comfort zone and try something different.

I loved the hat, loved the actors, and loved this show.

Lead image: L-R Darleen Pickering Hummert as Bubbie, Arin Lee Dandes, as Izzy in her new hat | Photo by James Gibbons

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

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