Theatre Review: ‘Crossing Delancey’ at The Alliance

Mary Lynn Owen, Sochi Fried, and Joanna Daniels in the Alliance Theatre’s 2017/18 production of “Crossing Delancey” at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. (Photos by Greg Mooney)

The Alliance Theatre is presenting Susan Sandler’s charming 1985 play “Crossing Delancey” at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, running though Nov. 25. You recall the Alliance is “on the road” as it renovates its home base into histrionic splendor—just in time for its 50th anniversary.

Actually the theatre at the Marcus JCC is perfect for “Crossing Delancey,” which was made into a movie in 1988 with Amy Irving and Peter Riegert, because its cozy intimacy is just what’s called for here. The play is largely set in the Lower East Side living room of Bubbie, the 80-year-old grandmother of a lovely young woman called Izzy (for Isabelle), who has a pleasant job in an Upper West Side bookstore, which happens to be the neighborhood where she lives.

By the way, the program notes that “The Yiddish name for grandmother is “bubbe.” In the Jewish tradition, one’s grandma has affectionately been called bubbie (or bubbe or bubby).” Bubbie is here played splendidly by Atlanta actor Mary Lynn Owen; Sochi Fried (Izzy) comes to us from Toronto, as does the play’s director Leora Morris, a Yale Directing Fellow for the Alliance for the 2016-17 season.

Sochi Fried and Daniel Thomas May in “Crossing Delancey.”

Ms. Morris says that “ ‘Crossing Delancey’ is a celebration of so many things—New York’s Lower East Side community in the 1980’s, the special relationships that are possible between grandparents and grandchildren, and the remarkable relaxation you feel when you find someone around whom you can be your truest self.”

The play also deals with the quest to find that special someone—and sometimes with a little outside help. You see, Izzy would appear to have it made: a secure job she enjoys, a rent-controlled apartment on the Upper West Side, youth, beauty—I mean, what else is there? Well, Bubbie will tell you what, just as she tells Izzy: a man, as in Jewish man, as in husband.

Now we’re in the 80’s: no cell phones, no quick digital pickups or dating services. However, since urging her granddaughter to find herself a man isn’t working, Bubbie resorts to a marriage-broker, a matchmaker (à la “Fiddler on the Roof”) named Hannah (Joanna Daniels). Hannah is friendly, pushy, and a pro; but even she seems a bit stalled in Izzy’s case.

Meanwhile, back at the bookstore, Izzy’s head has been turned by Tyler (Daniel Thomas May), an attractive customer and a published author; rather a big shot in Izzy’s world. Tyler appears interested in Izzy, but in a somewhat condescending way. He’s more impressed with Tyler.

Sochi Fried and Andrew Benator in “Crossing Delancey.”

Hannah, however, has not given up, and lo and behold, Sam (Andrew Benator), an unassuming owner of a pickle store on the Lower East Side, is emerging as a promising suitor for Izzy—at least in Hannah’s mind. And Sam (in a lovely performance by Mr. Benator) has had eyes on Izzy for awhile; and the more we know him, the more likable, genuine, and loving a mensch we discover him to be.

But it’s Izzy who must be convinced. (I was convinced right away: During intermission yummy free pickles slices were available, and I just knew that was Sam’s doing.) Izzy must decide what man and what lifestyle would make her truly happy.

Now I’m sure you can see that “Crossing Delancey” is really quite a formulaic romantic comedy; it may not win any playwriting prizes, but it will doubtless win many hearts. So much of this play’s success lies in the charm of the actors, and here we are not shortchanged. Each of the five actors is an experienced pro; they know what they’re doing and they delight in it.

I could say very nice things about each of them, but I’d rather you discovered them. I will say that it’s a pleasure to see Daniel Thomas May back on an Atlanta stage; he’s been busy with film, TV, and other work. Ms. Owen is a comic delight. Mr. Benator is incapable of giving a bad performance; I think his work touched me the most. Oops—there I go; I shall stop here.

It occurs to me that this is a most appropriate play for Thanksgiving time; and you can bet the Alliance powers-that-be thought of this as well. So I’d hasten to see this charmer; in these discordant times, we need all the love, warmth, and humor we can get.

For tickets and information, visit alliancetheatre.org.

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