Theater Review: JUST FOR US (Alex Edelman on Tour at the Mark Taper Forum)

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by Tony Frankel on November 12, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


If you’re looking for great night of humor about white supremacy and anti-Semitism (and who isn’t?), this is the show for you. Alex Edelman, Boston-born and -bred but now located in New York, brings his one-man show to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. If you think, not another one-person show, doubt not this riotous, insightful, charming experience that recently had a Broadway engagement and is currently on a U.S. tour — that gives you an idea of what a sensation it is. The audience was filled to the brim at last night’s opening. Edelman has been working on the show since 2018, so the most surprising thing, even with a few improvised riffs here and there, is that the spunky comedian never for once came off like he said any of these lines before. It’s fresh, fierce and funny, oft-times bettering the outings of his mentor Mike Birbiglia.

Edelman starts us off easy, with some animal jokes. (I won’t give away the punch lines, but I offer the tease that he confesses to having spent $800 learning ASL on the internet during the pandemic to pull off one of these riffs.) From there we find out about the ways he creatively takes on anti-Semites on the internet: I’ll tell you that he generates a twitter list for those who lob anti-Semitic attacks at him, but why tell you what he names that list — or any other lines? I don’t deserve the laughs; this guy does.

Eventually this effort to singlehandedly take on these anti-Semites lands him in a room in Queens where a group of white supremacists are holding a meeting. In the course of depicting this event (which Edelman confesses he is terrified to enter), we learn much about his Orthodox Jewish upbringing in Boston, including a hilarious account of his introduction to his Jewish identity at the age of seven when barred from eating a slice of pepperoni pizza at a kid’s Chuck E. Cheese birthday party, and the year his family celebrated Christmas in order to live out their Jewish values of empathy. We sweat it out with Edelman in that Queens apartment, waiting for the revelation of his identity, and the result, which is an honest self-examination of his goals in attending such a meeting. What Edelman takes away from the experience will surprise and delight you.

The 34-year-old Edelman, a self-acknowledged neuro-divergent, is in constant motion in the course of the show, running around pigeon-toed in bright white sneakers with the energy of a five-year-old at Christmas (but not Chanukah). On a bare stage, he uses four stools that at various times represent a circle of seventeen white supremacists, his sofa, and a luge sled (!). As for the title Just for Us: You may wonder whether the title means that the show is just for Jews. Fear not: the meaning of the title unfolds and expands in the course of the show; I assure you that it’s also for non-Jews. To help, Edelman skillfully explains elements of Orthodox culture that might be unfamiliar to some.

The show is also a tribute to Adam Brace, the playwright and incisive dramaturge/director whom Edelman acknowledged after curtain call. Mr. Brace, an English theatermaker who had been shaping successful one-person shows for years, suddenly passed at the age of 43 from complications of a stroke seven weeks before the Broadway opening. Edelman also worked with Mr. Brace on two other one-man shows, and his grief was palpable. “Comedians are maniacs,” Edelman told The New York Times. “And he dealt with us at our rawest and most eccentric. He’d take these personal stories and translate them into accessible shows.” Mr. Edelman happily makes himself available after the show to chat with you.

photos from the Broadway production by Matthew Murphy

Just For Us
Mark Taper Forum, 135 North Grand Ave
opening night is Saturday, November 11
Tues-Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
November 21-26 schedule:
Tues & Wed at 8; Fri (Nov 24) at 3 & 8; dark Nov. 23; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on November 26, 2023 EXTENDED to December 23, 2023
for tickets ($40-$150), call 213.628.2772 or visit CTG
tour continues into 2024; for dates and cities, visit Just for Us

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