Sometimes a performance can take you to a place you have never been. Sometimes they travel full circle, going back to where the character started. Such is the case with A Jew Grows in Brooklyn, now playing at the American Theatre of Actors. Except the star of this show, the very talented Jake Ehrenreich, is no character (though he is indeed a cut-up). He's a real person, born and bred in East Flatbush, and this wonderfully entertaining show is the story of his life.
Brooklyn is like every Yiddish joke: part cheesy, part sentimental, part redundant, but entirely funny and heartwarming. Ehrenreich, the first generation American son of two Holocaust survivors, talks about the many influences that shaped his life from early adolescence: baseball, pop music, and his Jewish upbringing. It's a multimedia performance, complete with photos of his relative, bar mitzvah and wedding, and video of his emotional but reserved father.
The ride down memory lane is not a solo journey, and, acting as a sort of Jewish Tony Danza, Ehrenreich also makes sure to involve the audience throughout the show. He asks them questions, and latches onto anyone in the audience with a childhood similar to his. (In an audience comprised predominantly by Jews, there are always are). A well-trained performer who has even sung for President Clinton, Ehrenreich performs both American and Yiddish songs throughout the show.
He has enough material to divide Brooklyn into two acts; the first of which brings to life his early years in East Flatbush, while the second act relives his summers spent in the Catskill Mountains (the reason why the theatre also blasts the Dirty Dancing soundtrack prior to the beginning of the show. It is during this second act that Ehrenreich adopts the persona of emcee, performing just like a Borscht belt act would. He also gives a show-stopping drum solo.
He gets to the sentimental heart of Brooklyn at play's end, as he finishes narrating the story of his families lives, including the death of his mother and oldest sister from early-onset Alzheimer's disease, and the birth of his son. Ehrenreich talks about how his father, who outlived the deaths of numerous family members in the Nazi death camps, survived to see the birth of his grandson, named for two of his deceased great-uncles. It's a stirring final moment that brings both familiar nods and knowing tears to its audience members.
Talk about bringing it all back home.