Peter Fogel wants to give Phoenicians a laugh heading into 2022.
The pandemic has made it feel like “two years that everyone lost their lives,” he said. “People are looking to laugh. They got to get back to their lives.”
Fogel is the star of “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & The Therapy Continues,” which began a four-week run at the Herberger Theater Center Dec. 29. The final show will be Jan. 30.
The one-man comedy is a sequel to “My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm in Therapy,” which was staged last in Phoenix in 2018. Fogel plays 25 different characters in each show.
Steve Solomon wrote the play based on his experience, and hand-picked Fogel to play him and his family members.
“This is a hysterical piece of comedy, in which the audience feels my chaos. The audience gets my frustration,” Solomon said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people just walk out of there wiping tears from their eyes. They love it.”
Solomon was born in a Jewish-Italian household. The premise is that his parents are getting older, they’re hard of hearing, they bicker, and generally “drive him crazy,” Fogel said, as do his ex-wife and his kids. The comedy of the play builds from that foundation.
The original production featured Fogel, as Solomon, going in for a therapy session. The therapist is late so he ends up talking to the audience as if they’re his therapist.
In the sequel, Fogel, as Solomon, is stuck at the airport in Atlanta in the middle of a snow storm. He wasn’t able to make Chanukah, Christmas or New Year’s Eve celebrations with his family, and he’s trying to get back to Miami for a family birthday, but all the flights are canceled. “We keep it updated with what’s going on with Covid,” Fogel said.
He can’t get home and the same problematic, yet amusing, family showcased in the first play makes him feel guilty. Speaking with his parents on the phone turns into a frustrating – yet funny – exercise in repetition and correction, as he says one thing but his parents hear something else.
“The audience is laughing at the human condition of having aging parents, which every Baby Boomer can relate to,” Fogel said.
And, Solomon said, audiences can relate to many of the characters in the play. People recognize “old, grumpy people whether they’re Jewish or Italian,” Solomon said. “My shows are not politically correct, but they're a hit. After 9,000 performances, we must be doing something right.”
The original show launched in 2002, while the sequel hit theaters around 2010, Solomon said. Its current run at the Herberger Theater is only its second time in Phoenix in nine years.
Philip Roger Roy, the show’s producer, said the sequel has been scheduled to run in the winter since 2020, but got postponed “when the great plague descended upon us.”
Roy, producer and president of LeRoy Associates, Inc., said Phoenix is one of his best markets.
Solomon and Fogel said the show changes with the times and has been updated to reflect the current realities of COVID and technology. But the soul of the show has stayed the same.
“My parents are my parents. My family is my family. Twenty years ago and today – it’s the same thing,” Solomon said.
Solomon said he, too, hopes the play gives audiences a good laugh and a mental escape from the pandemic.
The Herberger Theater requires all guests, staff and volunteers to wear a mask or face covering at all times while indoors regardless of vaccination. The production is requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of show time.
“Sometimes I look down and I see a sea of masks and I think I’m in an ICU,” Fogel joked, also noting that he appreciates the masking policy. When he talks to audience members after the show he, too, wears a mask.
“People are coming out. They're laughing – it's a challenge when they're wearing masks, but I still hear them.” JN
“My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & The Therapy Continues,” runs from December 29 to January 30. Show times are Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday at 2 and 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Ticket prices range from $56.50 to $68.50. Tickets are available at the Herberger Theater Box Office, (602) 252-8497 or herbergertheater.org.