Alex Edelman has crafted a stand-up comedy/one-man play hybrid in the hilarious Just for Us at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre Oct. 26 and 28. Photos by Matthew Murphy
Alex Edelman is hilarious. And incisive. And just the performer we need right now.
His solo show Just for Us, hot off of its Broadway run, is especially of the moment in its exploration of anti-Semitism, online vitriol and the great American divide. His short run at the Curran Theatre courtesy of BroadwaySF kicks off his tour (next to Los Angeles and then his hometown, Boston), and I couldn’t imagine a more relevant show for this fraught moment in history.
On one level, it’s absolutely enjoyable to watch a skilled performer tell a fascinating story that is both hilarious and cognizant of all the dark and dreary forces at work in our world. There’s nothing wrong with frivolous laughter – bring it on! – but Edelman is such a canny performer that he seems to be shambling through a loose stand-up act when in fact he and director Adam Brace have constructed and finely calibrated a penetrating look into hatred on a colossal scale. This is powerful theater masquerading as a stand-up act.
The central premise is that Edelman did two things you’re not supposed to do: 1) he looked at the comments and 2) he responded to a troll. It happened on the dying platform formerly known as Twitter, and a nasty exchange with an anti-Semite led Edelman to the borough of Queens for a meeting of White Nationalists, where, for a little while, he passed for “white” (the gorgons at the meeting do not consider Semites to be the right kind of white).
For 90 minutes, the high-octane Edelman takes us into the details of that night. Is he really attracted to one of the women there, imagining a rom-com only Mel Brooks could dream of? Are there really jigsaw puzzles that take three months to complete? But he also frequently veers off into his Jewish Orthodox upbringing and tales of a young David Yosef Shimon ben Elazer Reuven Halevi Alexander Edelman navigating yeshiva, his relationship with Judaism and, to great comic effect, an Edelman family attempt at Christmas.
There’s something incredibly satisfying about laughing so robustly at something that is actually awful. It’s like Edelman is playing with electricity on stage and sending bolts out into the audience. Some tickle, some sting. There we all are just laughing away at Edelman’s foibles, and then suddenly one of the meeting’s attendees asks Edelman, “What’s your name,” but it’s not a friendly inquiry. It’s a first level of vetting, and the audience goes stone cold silent.
There’s a fair amount of that guffaw/gulp dynamic in Just for Us, but there’s also comfort in the fact that humor (and bold storytellers like Edelman) can bring us together with a galvanizing force. Together, we can look into the face of the worst of us with a little empathy, a little hope among the ruins and, mercifully, more big laughs than I’ve had in a very long time.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Alex Edelman’s Just for Us continues a short run through Oct. 28 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Running time is 90 minutes (no intermission). Tickets start at $46. Call 888-746-1799 or visit broadwaysf.com.