Writted and Performed by Alex Edelman; Directed by Adam Brace
Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 8.19.23
Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street
by Shani R. Friedman on 7.15.23
Alex Edelman in Just For Us. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
BOTTOM LINE: Alex Edelman brings his riotous and thought-provoking show about growing up Jewish, anti-Semitism, and his Olympian brother to the gorgeous Hudson Theatre.
Have you heard the one about the Jewish guy who walks into a White Nationalist meeting? Obie Award-winning storyteller Alex Edelman is that guy—a Modern-Orthodox one, in fact—and on a night in 2017, he found himself at just such a gathering, right here in our New York City backyard. And he was invited!
To answer the obvious question of how the hell did that happen, Edelman, who has a sincere love of silly jokes, starts off talking about the famous gorilla Koko, who learned sign language, and how the zookeepers felt the pressing need to tell her that her friend Robin Williams had died. Indeed, Edelman is the person who spends “$800 for sign language over Zoom to tell a gorilla joke.”
It might have been exactly and only that sort of show had Edelman not been guilted by a friend into being more politically aware. Edelman admits he wasn’t particularly political before: his commentary about Brexit got as pointed as “I’d call it The Great British Break-Off.” It was, of course, social media that led Edelman into an anti-Semitic maelstrom when he got into a Twitter argument with one random person, and then woke up to a deluge of hate tweets from many more. Though not necessarily acting in a moment of good judgment, but definitely a stroke of creative brilliance, he compiled the accounts on Twitter—“Let them be on a list for once!”—calling it the Jewish National Fund Contributors, which all led to him seeing a Tweet about a get-together for those with “questions about their Whiteness.”
If Just For Us had just focused on what transpired that evening six years ago, it still would have been highly entertaining. But Edelman enriches his story with detours about growing up Jewish in the racist part of Boston (otherwise known as “Boston”) where he was a yarmulke-wearing kid who went to Yeshiva. Then one December the family improbably but hilariously ended up celebrating Christmas to cheer up his mother’s best friend, a tale that is going in my Top 10 Best Holiday Stories of All Time. There’s also his brother, AJ, who maybe equally absurdly, has become an Olympic athlete for Israel in the sport of skeleton.
Back to the landmine in Queens that Edelman walked into. The people he encountered were in some ways exactly what you’d expect from a roomful of neo-Nazis, but also much that you might not, as Edelman shares how he had a meaningful discussion about social media algorithms, half-seriously envisioned a future with a cute female, and felt surprising empathy for these people in their limited, limiting enclosures. A discussion of privilege also gets folded in, because he hadn’t even considered that he should worry about his well-being heading into a strange apartment for a white supremacist meeting.
It’s no surprise that Edelman, who has worked and reworked his performance countless times (getting notes from Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Crystal along the way), has taken Just For Us from above a London shoe store before an audience of 12, to a successful Off Broadway run back in spring 2022, and now to Broadway. There are a megillah’s worth of laughs, but the show is greater than the sum of its comedic parts as it challenges perceptions, raises doubts, and encourages further dialogue on identity, bigotry, and religion.
(Just For Us plays at The Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street, through August 19, 2023. The running time is 85 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Mondays through Wednesdays at 7:30; Thursdays at 5 and 8:30; Fridays at 7:30; and Saturdays at 2 and 7:30. Tickets start at $54 and are available at justforusshow.com.)
Just For Us is written and performed by Alex Edelman. Directed by Adam Brace. Set Design by David Korins. Creative Consultant is Alex Timbers.