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He's in Therapy; We're in Stitches

By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish and I'm in Therapy." Mamma mia! Oy! Such a title!

You expect ethnic punch lines to fly nonstop in this one-man stand-up show at the Bethesda Theatre, but Steve Solomon's laid-back, schmaltzy shtick turns out to be utterly universal. The family, they drive you crazy, right?

"They're like Snickers bars," Solomon says of his clan. "Sweet, with nuts."

The widely toured "Italian-Jewish-Therapy" is not a play, and the audience at this weekend's opening didn't expect it to be. It's situation standup: Solomon arrives in a therapist's empty office and waits for his session to start. But the doctor (named Assoli, except spelled in a way that can't be reprinted here) is late. So Solomon starts unburdening himself anyway, explaining it all to us.

As he plays himself onstage, Solomon isn't edgy or bent out of shape. Dressed like the school administrator he used to be, in gray slacks and blue blazer, the heavy-set Solomon seems bemused as he lapses easily into baritone voices for old men and the humble nasal squeaks that signify women and children. (He also does vocal effects for dogs, zippers and squeaky floors.)

There are jokes about keeping kosher and trying to explain the food rules to a baffled Italian woman who's spent her life cooking veal parmigiana, and jokes about Italian gestures on the playground that constitute a colorful unspoken language. But a lot of the jokes are more general, about marriage, aging, sex, smoking; Solomon's hacking sister is one of the most vivid characters of the night.

The humor's a little blue at times, and scatological in a way that even the grandparents can laugh at. There's a bit about Solomon's stint on a cruise ship, getting instructions on the bad words he can't say (turns out there's a lot of wiggle room), and a joke in which an old man pulls a suppository out of his ear and wonders where he put his hearing aid.

There's no anger in the piece, which makes it an easy 90 minutes for audiences wanting safe but steady laughs. And Solomon certainly keeps 'em coming; the punch lines land at the rate of three or four a minute. That he does this at a strolling pace, never breaking a sweat or revving up the anxiety, adds to the show's easygoing nature.

The handsomely designed office set is practically an afterthought, though Solomon makes use of a desktop intercom and an upright piano at the side of the stage. The piano's good for a sentimental melody he plays near the end, by which point the mothers and grandmothers in the audience might be thinking: Therapy? But he seems perfectly fine -- and such a nice boy.

My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish and I'm in Therapy, written and performed by Steve Solomon. Directed by John Bowab, originally directed by Andy Rogow. Set design, Jason Blackman; lights, Ray Cullom. Through March 23 at the Bethesda Theatre, 7719 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda. Call 301-657-STAR, 202-397-SEAT, 703-573-SEAT, 410-547-SEAT, 800-551-SEAT, or visit http://www.bethesdatheatre.com.

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