Avi Hoffman is Jewish. Still.
So much so the actor proclaims it with the title of his latest stage project, "Still Jewish After All These Years: A Lifetime in the Theatre." The one-man-show is being produced through May 19 by the Boca Raton Theatre Guild in the Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park.
Hoffman, who plays lawyer Sid Raskin in the Starz television series "Magic City," has also been a regular on NBC’s "Law & Order" and A&E's "The Glades." "Still Jewish" is the third in a trilogy, following "Too Jewish?" and "Too Jewish, Too!" — both of which won a slew of awards during off-Broadway runs and were broadcast nationally on PBS.
"The show was created four, maybe five years ago," Hoffman says from the Coral Springs home he shares with his wife, the actress Laura Turnbull, and their two daughters. "It’s when the New Vista Theatre Company was on its last legs. That was my [theatrical] company in Boynton and then in Boca that we had for a few years. And then, all hell broke loose. The economy dies, and all the funding just dried up. [Bernie] Madoff destroyed philanthropy in Palm Beach County pretty much."
Unable to stage the musical "The Producers" for his subscribers and fulfill his theater troupe’s season, Hoffman had returned to a tried-and-true product: the "Jewish" series, about his experiences as an actor and how his culture and heritage have influenced his stagecraft.
"I decided to give them something, come hell or high water," he says. "I think I wrote it in four days. We started performing it in lieu of 'The Producers,' and the audience loved it. The reviews were very positive."
Hoffman says the show has "evolved substantially" over the years, as he toured it around the country in between gigs as a highly sought-after director and actor for local company’s such as Outre Theatre Company ("An Iliad"), Mosaic Theatre ("Death and the Maiden," "The Irish Curse"), Parade Productions ("Brooklyn Boy") and Boca Raton Theatre Guild ("Chicago"). He plans to bring "Still Jewish" to New York this fall.
"You might say this is my last pre-New York tryout," Hoffman says. "I can tell you it's a hell of a lot shorter. My first version was like 2 1/2 hours long with an intermission. Now, it's 90 minutes with no intermission. ... I've been able to hone what really works best, which stories seem to touch the nerves, the funny bone of the tears. Now, it's become a very tight piece of theater."
Like the first two shows, this one is a mix of songs that make much of vaudeville shtick and Catskills comedy.
"I started in the Yiddish theater and singing at the age of 2 for racists in Georgia. I started professionally when I was 10, so I've been doing this profession for 45 years. Sometimes, I teach classes ... and I ask the students why they want to be an actor. They say to escape into another character or to be famous or whatever. You never hear someone say, 'I want to touch someone's soul.' Well, I want to touch people's souls. I want to get into their psyche and take them on a journey and help them forget their troubles for an hour, and at the end, they acknowledge they have come with me on this ride, and I thank them. That's what I am doing when I bow. I thank the audience, and not the other way around."
Unlike Hoffman's first two one-man-shows, this one is multimedia.
"Up to now, it was just me and a piano. That's it," he says. "[But] this time, I realized I'm a pack rat, and I have every photograph, every program, every article and every review of everything I've ever done since I was 4 years old."
That includes one line of dialogue from a movie filmed with Richard Harris in Israel. “And that movie ["The Hero"] is probably the most-obscure movie of all time," Hoffman says. "I found the entire movie online and downloaded it."
And then, there's the time he was 8 years old and played Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" in a community-theater production in New York. "My mother, who basically recorded everything I ever did, was able to send me the recording. Now, wait, I grew up in the Bronx, so you have an 8-year-old Tevye with a Bronx accent. Imagine a baby Tony Curtis playing Tevye.”
It's been five years since a South Florida audience has seen "Still Jewish." And in that time, he has come to look at the show differently.
"I wrote this because I needed to replace 'The Producers' with something that the audience wouldn't walk out on," Hoffman explains. "In the years since, I have been able to look at this as a piece of theater. I believe this piece has become a truly universal look at stereotyping through my lens, my specific lens, and it's a very entertaining piece for that lens. But ultimately, what I talk about in those shows is the fact that people get boxed into their stereotype whatever that might be and everyone has this problem. Everyone."
When: 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays (and Thursday, May 16); 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays
Where: Willow Theatre in Sugar Sand Park, 300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton
Contact: 561-347-3948 or BRTG.org.
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