Today, I Am a Fountain Pen | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Today, I Am a Fountain Pen

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Today, I Am a Fountain Pen, Chicago Jewish Theatre, at Red Hen Productions. Maybe I'd have liked this show better if I weren't a Jew. A non-Jewish critic might more easily have tolerated its sentimental tribal cliches. Alternatively, it's possible I'd have liked it better if Terry McCabe were a Jew. A Jewish director might've been less respectful of those cliches. As it is, however, I am, he's almost certainly not, and Israel Horovitz's World War II-era family comedy is insufferable.

The ethnic banalities start with the title, which refers to an old joke about a bar mitzvah boy's faux pas. But do they ever not end there. Daddy Yanover's in dry goods, Mama Yanover's a shrieking love monster who won't let her son skate for fear he'll fall through the ice, and little Irving's a precocious wiseass who plays Chopin like Van Cliburn and dreams of eating bacon. There's a cranky old Jew who alternates between wry sagacity and corned absurdity, and a sexy shiksa governess who uses Irving as cover for her escapades, buying his silence with--yes--bacon.

Behind the aesthetic horror of these walking platitudes lurks the real horror of the Holocaust. But McCabe is so committed to maintaining a cute-and-cuddly nostalgia that he can't acknowledge the negative aspects of the characters much less the slaughter of the Jews. The result is a disconnect that would be offensive if it weren't so surreal--and an ominous start for Chicago's new Jewish theater.

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