The Other Josh Cohen
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 20, 2012
The creative people involved with The Other Josh Cohen are all obviously very talented. I loved the spare set, designed with wit by Dane Laffrey. The on-stage musicians/occasional actor-singers Hannah Elless, Vadim Feichtner (also musical director), and Ken Triwush are terrific and sound great. Kate Wetherhead, who plays what the program calls "A Lot of People" is funny and versatile and brilliantly served by one or more offstage dressers who keep sending her back onstage completely transformed from head to toe in another of Dustin Cross's broad, indicative costume creations. Co-author/stars David Rossmer and Steve Rosen are fine musicians and actors, and when Rosen shakes a leg for an unexpected dance move he's genuinely thrilling to watch.
So it's sad to report that this piece they've made together is so disappointing. It's a very thin character study of a schlemiel named Josh Cohen whose life hits bottom when he is robbed a few days before Valentine's Day. The thieves took everything in his apartment except for one Neil Diamond CD (which becomes the inspiration for a runing gag that quickly wears thin). Then, Josh gets a mysterious envelope in the mail.
The mystery—which isn't even initiated until about a third of the way into the show—turns out to be a real non-starter, though, much to the show's detriment. Josh Cohen and this musical about him simply don't go anywhere. There's a tacked-on moral, kind of, at the end, but it's not one I'd want to teach my children. Mostly, the show feels like a [title of show] knockoff, meta as all get-out, as a present-day Josh (Rossmer) and a year-ago version of Josh (Rosen) jointly tell a story that has as much narrative thrust as a Seinfeld episode.
Most disturbing is the reliance for laughs on broad stereotypes—mostly of Jews, but of others as well—that should have gone out of style decades ago. Why are secular Jews—who make a meal out of shellfish and seem to believe in a Catholic Saint named Valentine—depicted as so culturally different from the rest of the American middle class?
It makes for a not-very-funny script, peppered by some innocuous though pleasant songs, all put over with verve and warmth by a cast that deserves better material.