Say you’re Joseph and you’re married to Mary, but you haven’t yet consummated your marriage when you discover that Mary is pregnant. Understandably, you want to know who the father is. So what do you do? You call the three Wisemen, the Jewish law firm of partners Goldberg, Frankenstein, and Murray (“the first Irish Jew”), the so-called “litigators of the liturgy.”
That basic premise drives the irreverent 90-minute cabaret show “Wisemen,” a madcap mixture of Jewish shtick, double entendre, and musical medley of everything from klezmer to hip-hop to funk to mariachi. In their search for the truth, the Wisemen hold court before a money-obsessed Santa, with a gangsta-rapping Easter Bunny and G-d as two of their witnesses. And if the outcome of the trial is never in doubt (G-d fesses up), creators David Bestock and Eli Rosenblatt keep us guessing about what will happen next in their wild ride through biblical history and religious parody.
Actor Bestock and musician Rosenblatt wrote the motor-mouth script and eclectic score, which they have been refining since “Wisemen” premiered a couple of years ago at the Tractor Tavern. By taking the show to ACT’s Bullitt Cabaret this year, they’ve been able to expand the production elements and draw a deservedly bigger crowd. The buzz for “Wisemen” is so great, all six performances are close to sold out.
There’s no question Bestock and Rosenblatt are a dynamic duo. When they and the other actors slow down long enough — and enunciate well enough — for us to absorb the mile-a-minute jokes and puns, it’s clear the script is full of hilarious one-liners. When Joseph visits the local shrink, he reveals a dream in which he is in the Virgin Islands and really “wants to get off.” When Frankenstein says something nonsensical, Mary responds, “I guess if it makes sense to you, Frankenstein, it’s frank in sense.” When one of the Wisemen asks the Easter Bunny if he’s made love with Mary, the Bunny says, “I wouldn’t call it love. I’m a bunny. It’s what we do.”
That Bestock and the rest of the four-person cast can carry off such silliness is testimony to their split-second timing and willingness to look stupid. In the masterful courtroom scene, Bestock, Gavin Cummins, and Ben Harris reveal their prodigious talents as quick-change artists in their back-and-forth character-switching stints as the three Wisemen, Santa, Mary, the Easter Bunny, a neighbor who’s slept with Mary, and Mary’s attorney, the Pope.
Colin Smith rounds out the cast as the downtrodden Joseph and delivers arguably the funniest line in the show. After the baby is born, Mary muses about different names for the child while Joseph hammers away at her side. Suddenly, Joseph bangs his finger. “Jesus Christ!” he screams…and the rest is history.
The show could still use a little fine-tuning since there are a couple of scenes that drop in out of the blue and are superfluous to the action. One is a mariachi musical number, the only time Rosenblatt appears on stage, that seems designed mainly to show off Rosenblatt’s impressive guitar playing and near-perfect Castilian accent and Ben Harris’ way with a horn. The other has Santa in a romp with two seductive female elves, which serves mainly to allow the other actors time to change costumes.
But these are minor defects and if not everyone in the opening night audience got all the “in” Jewish jokes, there’s enough general appeal and engaging music, splendidly played live by Rosenblatt, Sam Esecson, and Birch Pereira to make this a delightful new holiday tradition. One word of warning, however. This is decidedly not a family show; many of the jokes are off-color and the basic story line is one definitely not suitable for younger viewers.
If you go: “Wisemen” at ACT’s Bullitt Cabaret, 700 Union Street, 8 pm December 13-16, 20-22. General admission (no reserved seating) $15, standing room available after 12 pm day of show. Tickets (206) 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org