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Jackie Mason: Freshly Squeezed

Presented by Jyll Rosenfeld, Jon Stoll, and James Scibelli at the Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44 St., NYC. Opened March 23 for an open run.

Who knows whether Jackie Mason is or isn't "freshly squeezed"? What's pertinent is the way he squeezes.

Mason can extract every stubborn drop of laughter from a gag. Give him an absurdities-of-modern-life topic—the complexities of cell phones, say, or the wacky logic of the Atkins Diet—and Mason goes to town. He massages the gag. He thwacks it a few times. He digresses in order to pose some rhetorical question (and then admonishes a sucker in the front row for not answering it). Then he's back at the bit again. He gains momentum. His body starts jerking like a marionette dodging traffic; he punctuates his speech with some ripe Bronx cheers.

Then the fit subsides and he starts up another tangent.

The subtitle here—"Just One Jew Talking!"—alludes to his last Broadway outing, 2003's "Laughing Room Only," in which he experimented with a music-variety format that utilized more than just one Jew talking. Mason tells us now that "Laughing Room" used the most-talented people available, but that audiences responded by asking, "Who wants talented people? Let's see Jackie Mason."

So now he's back to his customary solo format, with visible support only from lighting designer Paul Miller, who provides a starry, faux-glam backdrop.

The show's first half deals mostly with those aforementioned absurdities-of-modern-life tirades: Central Park's "orange curtains," personnel in emergency rooms who are obsessed with your mother's maiden name.

After intermission, things become slightly more political. But the bits lack bite. Four months after the presidential election, are jokes about John Kerry as a flip-flopper all that hilarious? When, finally, Mason gets to the Middle East, things seem more promising. But after about three or so jokes—one about the late Yasser Arafat's headgear—there's a quick retreat to safer territory: Cialis commercials and toilets that flush automatically.

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