Review: 'Just for Us' crosses the chasm

On a narrow, curving street in Manhattan’s West Village, a sign of hope: A production that died down just before Christmas, as the Omicr...

On a narrow, curving street in Manhattan’s West Village, a sign of hope: A production that died down just before Christmas, as the Omicron variant descended on the city, has reopened at the Cherry Lane Theater.

Of course, that’s what comedian Alex Edelman’s publicists said would happen on his solo show, “just for us“, abruptly interrupted his run there in December, promising a return on January 24. But when a production goes into pandemic hibernation, it’s easy to worry that it won’t reappear.

So the return of “Just for Us” is a welcome development, especially since it’s such a fun and entertaining show. A quick and clever provocation of a monologue, it’s about race and identity in American culture, and the tantalizing impulse to cross the chasm for the diehard fanatics among us.

Like the white supremacists who, Edelman tells us, tweeted out a public invite to a meeting they were having in Queens — though when he approached them he went as an undercover. Hoping that no one would realize he was Jewish, he didn’t really have unity in his mind. But then he spotted a pretty woman he calls Chelsea and decided to talk to her.

“I said to myself, without irony: you never know,” he says, and his eyes widen at his own idiocy.

He connects the story of this pre-pandemic gathering, which began with the gathered racists complaining about the then-recent marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, with a memory from his early childhood: the time when his mother, seeking to comfort a friend bereaved, decided that their Orthodox Jewish family would organize a Christmas celebration for her, complete with gifts and a tree. With a top on top.

Is the detail of the dreidel true? An embellishment? Anyway, it works. Tom Stoppard makes a similar joke in his recent epic play “Leopoldstadt”, only there, the top of the trees is a star of David. Both shows are apples and oranges, but anti-Semitism and assimilation are major themes in both. Stoppard writes about historical Nazis, while Edelman disparages 21st century bigots as “Nerf Nazis”: pathetic wannabes. “It’s not the winners of life,” he says.

Directed by Adam Brace, “Just for Us” is an inherently political piece from a comedian who says he’s tended to avoid talking about politics on stage. (“Because it depresses everyone!” Edelman explodes at the start.) It’s about whiteness, the privileges that come with it, and the hierarchy that, as he saw growing up in Boston, considers descendants of Mayflower as an ambitious American ideal.

More philosophically, the show pushes and pushes for empathy and morality, and how othering entire categories of people facilitates their dehumanization. Which is a very relevant observation in the midst of this ideologically polarized public health crisis.

“It’s so hard to hate up close,” Edelman says, but of course that’s not true for everyone. It turns out that the white supremacists at the meeting seemed to have no problem hating him. Which irritated him, because part of him wanted them to like him. And yes, he knows it’s absurd.

Edelman ends “Just for Us” on a deliciously funny high: recounting his petty and perfect act of revenge against white supremacists. The show itself counts as another revenge – bigger, bolder, and with the Cherry Lane audience firmly on its side.

just for us
Through Feb. 19 at Cherry Lane Theatre, Manhattan; Duration: 1h15.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: 'Just for Us' crosses the chasm
Review: 'Just for Us' crosses the chasm
Newsrust - US Top News
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