‘Crossing’ back in time
Local actors join an Old World, on-stage shidduch
SJM, pickle salesman, looking for pretty, intelligent, independent SJF, preferably in lower Manhattan. Well-meaning bubbes welcome.
Does anyone even remember when matchmaking fell within the purview of Jewish grandmothers, who always seemed to greet you with “Have I got a guy/girl for you!”
It was just over 20 years ago when the charming story of Isabelle “Izzy” Grossman and Sam Posner made it to the big screen in Crossing Delancey (with Amy Irving and Peter Riegert in the starring roles). It now comes to the small stage at the Bickford Theater at the Morris Museum in Morristown from Jan. 21. to Feb. 14.
Unlike the characters they portray, Elyse Wolf (Izzy) and Garth Kravits (Sam), have a lot in common. They both live in West Orange with their families, and they both teach: Kravits as a drama teacher at Glen Ridge High School, where he’s working on a rock musical version of Macbeth, and Wolf as an aerobics/exercise instructor at various locations, including the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC, Ross Family Campus, West Orange. They both come from families that are heavily involved in theater and have been performing since they were kids. Kravits, 40, has appeared on Broadway in the revival of The Drowsy Chaperone; Wolf, 36, has a long string of credits in regional and stock theater, as well as appearing on such television shows as Rescue Me, Ally McBeal, and Spongebob Squarepants. While they knew of each other by reputation, they had never met prior to the auditions for Delancey.
“It’s such a great play,” Kravits told NJ Jewish News in a phone interview the day before rehearsals started. “It’s a role I’ve been waiting to play for a long time.”
He grew up with the slapstick comedy of The Three Stooges and the snappy patter of the Marx Brothers. He once played Harpo Marx, the silent brother. You might think it would be easy, since he had no lines to memorize. “The people I worked with on the show were so funny and so wonderful that the hardest part for me was not cracking up,” said Kravits, who will be making his Bickford debut. “As Chico or Groucho, you could maybe get away with making a chuckle here and there, but without being able to make a sound, it was a bit challenging.”
Kravits said he would welcome the opportunity for more dramatic roles, but realizes he might be typecast. “I sort of lean toward that Neil Simon kind of Jewish comedy background. I fit very well into that shmendricky character.
“Crossing Delancey is such a great light-hearted romantic comedy, but there are still some great deep, emotional, sincere moments in it, too,” he said. “I’ve learned that there needs to be a lot of truth in your comedy. You can’t just be shitcky and yuk it up on stage.”
It’s been some time since either actor has seen the film version. Thom Christopher Warren, the director of the play, asked that they refrain from doing so as they prepare. Wolf agreed with the reasoning. “I think it’s wise because I think he wants me to make Izzy my own character and not copy Amy Irving.” Subconsciously or not, it’s always a possibility to be influenced by seeing a prior performance, she said.
Warren also decided to keep Delancey set in the 1980s rather than bring it up to date. “It was contemporary for its time, but it really was about Old World traditions,” said Wolf, who appeared at the Bickford last year in With and Without. “It is very much about Izzy making a choice as to what parts to include, whether she has room in her contemporary world for some old school, Jewish life that her grandmother presents to her and, ultimately, Sam as well.”
Both of Wolf’s grandmothers, who live in the Philadelphia areas, will attend a performance. She wonders what they’ll think of her relationship with her make-believe bubbe. “Their experience watching me on stage has been years and years and years, and on my worst performance they’ve been nothing but glowing — as bubbes probably should be — in their critique of me onstage.”