In American stage and film comedy, there used to be a sure-fire formula for success: take a Jewish boy and an Irish girl, make them fall in love with each other, and then watch the sparks fly as the immigrant parents get into all sorts of conflict with each other over the impending match.
Fast forward to today’s pop culture, where the formula remains pretty much the same, except that instead of Jews and Irish, it’s more likely Jews and Italians — and the gender roles are often reversed. Witness David Lamb’s new play, “Spaghetti and Matzo Balls — Fuhgeddaboudit!” set in Brooklyn, in which the romance between an Italian boy and a Jewish girl causes upheaval not just in their own lives, but in the lives of their families and friends.
Directed by Renee Lynette Ferrara, the play presents the mayhem that ensues when Tony (Peter Marinaro) falls for Sarah (Jennifer Leigh Cohen), only to cause consternation on the part of Sarah’s Jewish-Buddhist mother, Mrs. Burger (Mindy Cassle) and Tony’s old-school Italian father (Paul Failla).
Among the other colorful characters are AT&T (Amadeo Fusca), an aspiring filmmaker and clam-sauce maker who prides himself on being “connected,” and Fuhgeddaboudit (Darren Lipari), an Italian stallion who punctuates every sentence with that expression. (The phrase has been an unofficial slogan of Brooklyn since Borough President Marty Markowitz had the phrase — which reportedly won out over “Oy vey” — posted on street signs in 2004 for motorists leaving the borough.)
The playwright, who is African-American, grew up in a housing project in Astoria. He studied economics at Hunter College before earning a master’s degree at Princeton and a law degree from NYU. While working in the field of public finance, he started writing. His first novel, “Do Platanos Go Wit Collard Greens?,” is about a relationship between an African-American boy and a Latino girl; it was subsequently turned into a hit play, which will run in repertory with the new work.
In a telephone interview, Lamb pointed out that Jews and Italians often unite in contemporary pop culture; he referenced Steve Solomon’s “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy,” the Italian mobster and Jewish therapist played respectively by Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal in Harold Ramis’ “Analyze This,” and the marriage between the Irish-Italian gangster (played by Ray Liotta) and the Jewish girl (played by Lorraine Bracco) in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.”
His goal, he said, is to “make people laugh about their own ridiculousness and belief in stereotypes.”
The title “Spaghetti and Matzo Balls” has been used quite a bit lately, by, for example, Dave Lewis’ 2005 short film about an Italian milkman who beds an Orthodox Jewish housewife, and Rena Strober’s one-woman cabaret show, inspired by a Mafia killing that happened in the middle of one of her performances at the iconic Italian restaurant Rao’s in East Harlem. So Lamb is thinking of switching to his evocative subtitle. Goumba Johnny, a radio personality for WKTU, hosted the premiere last Friday night. After the play, he tried to teach an elderly Jewish woman how to say “Fuhgeddaboudit” correctly. “She pronounced it as three distinct words,” Lamb recalled. “The whole audience was in tears.”
“Spaghetti and Matzo Balls — Fuhgeddaboudit!” runs at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Ave. Performances are Saturday, June 26 at 8 p.m., Friday, July 9 at 8 p.m., Sunday, July 18 at 2 p.m. and Friday, July 23 at 2 p.m.
For tickets, $34.50-43.50, call TheaterMania at (212) 352-3101 or visit Theatermania.com.
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