If Samuel Beckett had been a Jew, his Waiting for Godot’s Estragon and Vladimir could have emerged as the equally quirky Two Jews, Talking, in the appealing new two-hander by Ed. Weinberger starring Hal Linden and Bernie Kopell, all three TV legends. The two characters in each one-act play, talk and talk and get nowhere—very pleasantly with just the right touch of surreal mystery.
Weinberger (The Tonight Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, etc.) has fashioned a quiet tour de force for these two veterans. Linden, a spry 92, is not only a TV veteran (Barney Miller) but a star of the Broadway stage, including his Tony Award winning performance in The Rothschilds. Kopell (89) is remembered for his long-running turn as the ship’s doctor in The Love Boat among many other appearances.
The first act takes place in the desert in 1505 BCE (!) and the second now. Harry Feiner designed the sets—and also the fine lighting and evocative video backdrops of desert dunes and then a lovely tree-filled park. Two seats, constructed as if they were carved out of stone and a spindly, leafless tree signified the Moses, wandering Jew period, while what seems to be a park bench, the second act in the present.
Bud (Kopell) and Lou (Linden)—as in Bud Abbott and Lou Costello—dressed in colorful, if well-worn, Biblical era, robes (costumes by Anthony Paul-Cavaretta) have been separated from the maddening crowd of ever-aging and frustrated followers of Moses. Bud is the intense curmudgeon to Lou’s animated kvetcher.
Lou’s feet hurt because he wears boots (boots?) rather than the more appropriate sandals that Bud dons on his feet. Lou has been trying to get to an oasis in the distance which Bud, the realist—and Moses’ accountant—insists is just a mirage.
Lou trash talks Moses, particularly for interrupting the food and sex orgy that erupted while he went up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. Somehow Bud missed all the fun. They also reminisce about their lives in Egypt, Bud particularly mourning his management position as a contractor for the Pharaoh.
Questioning the wisdom of the Ten Commandments—including inventing some new ones—leads directly to banter about circumcisions, erections, masturbation and sex in general and even the perils and pleasures of being a Jew.
Act Two finds Phil (Kopell) and Marty (Linden), now in contemporary clothes—Kopell in a conservative suit, Linden in a casual outfit—in a pleasant park. Marty carries a shopping bag from which he later removes his lunch.
In a witty touch, Weinberger has the men assuring each other that they are vaccinated to prove they can occupy the same bench. Immediately they get into the age old old age problem of getting up to pee at night. A bond is formed.
Doctors and dentists are dismissed as borderline criminals and God is brought up again, as they wonder if He will ever speak to them as he did in the Bible. This leads to an extended, amusing debate about what heaven would and should be like: where they would live (condos?); who they would meet; what revenge they could take; etc.
Peppered into these discussions are three hoary jokes that Marty tells, only to have Phil, who claims not to have heard them, pull the rug out from under him by finishing the punch lines, much to Marty’s frustration, but very much to the audience’s amusement.
The conversation, at times a tad uneasy, reveals the basic differences between the two while also uniting the two old gentlemen. Weinberger knows these men intimately and gradually exposes their touching pasts. Somehow their marriages, children and social positions take on microcosmic meaning, especially in the hands of these two actors who are tasked with a bit of a twist at the end that unites the two lives even more.
Kopell, the less animated of the pair, casts a spell with his unwavering gaze while Linden takes control of the situation with his still powerful voice and animated arms.
Director Dan Wackerman wisely gives the two veterans plenty of room to find their personal rhythms and shtick and they clearly take advantage of this freedom as they create two touching portraits.
Two Jews, Talking (extended through November 27, 2022 with Josh Mostel and Richard Masur taking over on October 28, 2022)
Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.telecharge.com
Running time: 85 minutes without an intermission