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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

New comedy explores effect of ethnic humor

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Polish Joke isn't.

A joke, that is.

David Ives' latest contemporary comedy - he finished it last summer, according to producer Claudette Davis - explores stereotypes and their influences with gentle laughter, a great deal of poignancy, and yes, some situations that are far from politically correct.

However, the show has much to say and offers a great deal of food for thought. It runs through January in Ms. Rose's Dinner Theater, where it made its Midwest debut.

Substitute Irish or Italian or black for the Polish of the title, and the play would still work. Ethnic humor is often cruel and pervasive enough so that the targets of the jokes begin to buy into the stereotypes.

This is what happens to Uncle Roman (Thomas Kleinert), who tells his young godson, Jasiu (Joshua Marcus), that to get ahead in the world, he should hide his heritage. Despite its long history, its talent for survival, its statesmen, musicians, and inventors, Roman says, "Poland is a punchline."

Jasiu takes Roman's words to heart and goes through his early adult life trying to be someone he's not. He pretends to be Irish, but the human resources manager spots the deception. He tries to buy flowers, but the florist looks right through him.

Only his sweetheart, Rachel (Merri Bame), accepts him as he is. Despite her encouragement and love, however, Jasiu keeps running from himself.

Kleinert and Bame play multiple roles, as do Brad Riker and Lynda Whiting, ranging from the fathers of Jasiu and Rachel (Riker), to a seminary priest and a cop (Kleinert), to a travel agent and a nurse (Whiting) to the girl next door (Bame).

Whether the role is poignant or humorous or even nasty, the talented cast is up to the many challenges.

Marcus, in particular, pleases. He is in every scene and rarely makes a misstep. He makes us feel Jasiu's pain and confusion as the young man tries to find a balance between his heritage and his determination to follow Uncle Roman's advice.

Bame, who more often has a director's role at Ms. Rose's, proves she has a flair for both comedy and drama in her various roles.

Kleinert is a favorite at Ms. Rose's, having recently finished a role in Escanaba in da Moonlight. He is a member of Random Acts with fellow cast member Whiting. Their sequence together as Mr. and Mrs. Flanagan brings down the house, especially when they do a few Riverdance-type moves.

Riker at first seems like the weak link in the cast, but upon reflection, I think that his characters aren't as well-drawn as the others.

In fact, my biggest complaint about Polish Joke is neither the ethnic humor nor the lack of political correctness. Both are justified in the course of the play.

Rather, it is that Ives' comedy doesn't seem quite finished. Some of his characters need more definition, some of his transitions made smoother.

But the potential is there, and with a bit more tinkering and a strong cast such as Ms. Rose's has, Polish Joke has the potential to become a staple of the stage.

And that's no joke.

"Polish Joke" continues on a staggered schedule in Ms. Rose's Dinner Theater in the DC Ranch Entertainment Complex, 25740 North State Rt. 25, Perrysburg. The next two performances are at 8 tonight and 5 p.m. Sunday. Doors open two hours earlier for the buffet. Tickets range from $36 to $39. Information: 419-874-8505.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at:

ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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