‘Bar Mitzvah’ has no guest of honor, but plenty of laughs

Staff Writer

 David Michael Lieberfarb appears verklempt at his own bar mitzvah in 1961. David Michael Lieberfarb appears verklempt at his own bar mitzvah in 1961. The first thing you need to know about “David Michael Finkelstein’s Bar Mitzvah” is that the title character never makes an appearance. Nor do any other 13-year-olds.

“David Michael Finkelstein’s Bar Mitzvah,” now playing at the Forum Theatre in Metuchen, is a musical by, about and for grownups — at least, chronologically. The actions of the characters onstage reflect varying levels of emotional maturity — mostly low — but we’re talking about a show with goals more in the mode of Mel Brooks than Stephen Sondheim, unless you’re thinking of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

The stars are the bar mitzvah boy’s Aunt Ruth and Uncle Irv, played by Forum veterans Vicki Tripodo and Paul Whelihan. The other main characters are their nebbishy daughter Sarah, whose mother nags her about her “sensible” shoes; flamboyant Cousin Barry, who sings the show-stopping “I’m Not Gay”; his buxom “date” Gina, a “shiksa”; a would-be Latin lothario, who wants to make a conquest for the evening; and David’s mother, Sylvia, who sees herself as the real luminary of the occasion that marks her son’s Jewish rite of passage. And the theme of the over-the-top event is Hooters, which excites Uncle Irv as much as it distresses Aunt Ruth. The lavish festivities for the never-seen children include baseball tips from a future Hall of Famer for the boys and pole-dancing lessons from a famous pop star for the girls.

So any notions that I (David Michael Lieberfarb) entertained of finding something in “David Michael Finkelstein’s Bar Mitzvah” that relates to memories of my own big day were quickly laid to rest. The names are almost the same, but the similarity ends there.

All I cared about in 1961 was getting through the service without making any mistakes; hoping my friends would have a good time; and opening my presents, of which my favorites were a baseball glove and a pair of binoculars. In those days, “hooters” were owls and “gay” was an adjective for the 1890s.

As the publicity for the show notes, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy “David Michael Finkelstein’s Bar Mitzvah,” but it certainly helps to have a passing familiarity with some Yiddish terms that have become part of the lexicon, and if you don’t, the producers thoughtfully provide you with a glossary in the program. Many Yiddishisms are packed into a single song, “Meshugga [Crazy] About You,” a duet in which the frequently bickering Ruth and Irv vulgarly proclaim their love for one another.

Finally, though David Michael Finkelstein (rhymes with whine) never appears at his bar mitzvah, you can. Audience members who arrived early were asked to extend their best wishes to the lad, and their responses were compiled in a short video that was screened after the final scene.

I’m sorry my parents didn’t think of that, but then again we didn’t have that kind of instant film technology in 1961. “David Michael Finkelstein’s Bar Mitzvah” runs 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sundays through July 20 at the Forum Theatre Arts Center, 314 Main St., Metuchen. Tickets cost $35, or $29 for groups of 10 or more. They are available for purchase by calling the theater at 732-548-5600. For more information, visit www.forumtheatrearts.org.