‘Feisty’ has the laughs but feels a bit thin 

Bernie, the titular “Feisty Old Jew” in playwright-performer Charlie Varon’s short, new solo piece at The Marsh, is indeed the feistiest octogenarian you’re likely to meet.

The fictional character lives at a San Francisco retirement home, along with a bunch of other geezers who will be making appearances in Varon’s future shows (specifically, Selma Cohen, of whom we get an enticing sneak preview at the end of this show).

Bernie’s a street-smart guy from Brooklyn. He’s uneducated but boasts about his high IQ and rants about everything modern, especially the entitled, dot-com trust fund kids (“chattering idiots”), who have ruined San Francisco.

When he impulsively hitchhikes to Marin and is picked up by three young people — a surfer dude, an Indian entrepreneur and the entrepreneur’s sister, who’s published an author and journalist whom Bernie admires — with a cappuccino maker in the car he balks at their implicit condescension toward him.

Determined to prove that he’s no ordinary old man, he makes a high-stakes bet: If they put him on a surfboard at Bolinas, which is where they’re headed, he’ll ride the waves.

The idea of such an outrageous daredevil of an old guy is funny and appealing, but this is ultimately a poignant tale. Sharp, sarcastic and physically fit as Bernie is, he is unwilling to accept his own mortality.

Varon, a trim figure with salt-and-pepper hair and beard, narrates throughout, and is, as always, a captivating figure. But the story as a performance piece feels thin, lacking the astute social commentary of some of his past pieces. Beautifully written and delicate, it feels more literary than theatrical.

And Varon, under David Ford’s direction, chooses not to embody the various characters in the rich and comical way that he’s done in past shows. He takes on Bernie’s cranky voice occasionally (but not his physicality) but rarely any other voice (the sister has laryngitis and communicates with Bernie via text messages), instead maintaining the role of skillful storyteller.

Quarrelsome Bernie, raging against the dying of the light, is a pleasingly quirky character, but this brief episode in his life is not as satisfying as some of Varon’s previous work.

REVIEW

Feisty Old Jew

Where: The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. most Sundays, 2 p.m. March 2, closes March 16

Tickets: $25 to $100

Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Bio:
Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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