By Lucy Komisar
It’s not quite Mel Brooks’ “2000 Year-Old Man,” but Ed Weinberger attempts a take with two 3500 year-old geezers wandering in the desert on Moses’ famous trek to “the promised land.” Lou (Josh Mostel) complains his boots are too tight and “How come in all these 30 years, not once has anybody — ever — had the decency to tell us the truth? We’re lost…. We’ve been lost ever since we left Egypt.”
Bud (Richard Masur) in a red robe, tells him to have faith in God’s miracles.” Who dropped manna from Heaven? Who brought forth water from a rock?”
Lou protests, “I didn’t ask for miracles. All I asked for was a roof over my head. A full belly. A good woman to love. And a pair of sandals — size 10-1/2. …. I have no milk! I have no meat! And God says don’t mix. And for that I need two sets of dishes.”
So it seems to be a hoaky take on the Jewish religion. Both Mostel and Masur are fine in their roles, realistic and just this side of the Catskills. And well directed by Dan Wackerman to toggle between the jokes and a serious message.
My favorite is the part about the Ten Commandments. Bud asks, “If there’s no God, who wrote the Ten Commandments?”
Lou would have rewritten just about every one of them.” I would have written: ‘Thou shalt steal from the rich and give to the poor.’ I would have written: ‘Covet all you like, just don’t touch.’ A little coveting never hurt anyone.”
Bud inquires, “And I suppose you have a problem with ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness’.” Lou replies, “I would have written: ‘If you know what’s good for you, stay out of court altogether.’” And ‘Honor thy father and mother’ — even when they move in with you.”
You get the idea, these are 1500 BCE Jews, but Lou has a modern-day cynicism. And a modern-day entrepreneurial streak: he wants to set up a resort in the oasis he sees. He predicts, “The place should make a fortune.” Bud insists it’s a mirage, a figment of the imagination. Lou: “And what if the Promised Land is a mirage…a figment of the imagination?”
Time passes along with Middle East horn music to 2000 on Long Island. The Jews’ promised land? So, what is the surprise Weinberger has in store?
Lou is now Marty and is wearing jeans and a running jacket and carrying a “Big Brown Bag.” He sits next to Phil, in a sports coat and white collar, on a bench in a park. They seem not to know each other. They chat.
They talk about the medical indignities of old age
Marty is still cynical.
Phil: But if there’s no God, how did we all get here?
Marty: We got here from the slime. The slime. The muck. The mire. Out we crawled — a fish with little legs. Five billion years later, look at us — here we are — a shampoo and conditioner in the same bottle. You want to give God credit for that — be my guest.”
They talk about heaven. Where do they eat? At an enormous restaurant with a huge menu. They get entertainment with Sinatra in all his glory.
And then they talk about their lives and their families. Some joys, some sorrows.
The play is billed as a comedy. It’s only occasionally funny. At this point, it’s more like sitcom (not praise).
But it turns out to have a more serious purpose, to show why religion matters. And comforts. Because the park in Long Island is not just “a park.” Still sitcom. But with a point.
“Two Jews, Talking.” Written by Ed Weinberger, directed by Dan Wackerman. Theatre at St. Clements, 423 West 46th Street (btwn 9th & 10th Aves). Fri-Sun. Tkts Runtime 70min. Opened Aug 29, 2022; closes Nov 27, 2020. Masks required.