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Off-Off-Broadway Review

The Wife

The Wife
Photo Source: LukeNorby
Lenny Bruce had a classic routine called "How to Relax Your Colored Friends at Parties," in which he played a clueless, patronizing party guest trying very hard to be casual with a black acquaintance. ("Bojangles—Christ, could he tap dance. It's that natural sense of rhythm. Born right in ya, I guess.") The first scene in Tommy Smith's "The Wife" seems to be going for a similar effect, as 30-ish graphic designer Jake (Jacob H. Knoll) makes an ass of himself in front of his neighbor Ruth (Caitlin McDonough-Thayer), a Hasidic woman he has asked to take care of his cat. ("You're like a Jew, right? You're one of those Jew wives, right?")

Of course, Bruce had an excellent ear for the uneasy racial dynamics of his time and place, a knack that is not much in evidence in "The Wife." Would a young urbanite—easily identifiable as a hipster by his flannel shirt, goatee, and chunky rectangular glasses—be so incredibly gauche in the racial sensitivity department? And would the insulted woman just sit there calmly and take it? Later, we're supposed to accept that these two become lovers, but the relationship is barely touched upon, much less made credible.

Ruth, a lonely woman with few options in life, certainly deserves better. Her husband, Jacob (Noal Joseph Allain), is a misanthropic cold fish with a penchant for hookers, notably a loudmouthed, obnoxious specimen named Nance (Mary Jane Gibson), who used to be Jake's girlfriend. Nance has a sweet teenage daughter known as Girly (Ayesha Ngaujah), whom Jacob debauches in a genuinely unpleasant scene. Toward the end, Jake—not to be confused with Jacob—commits an unexpected act of extreme violence that is both indifferently staged and weirdly undermotivated.

So what does it all add up to? Hard to say. The elements of a potent black comedy about culture clash are all there, but as the characters refuse to behave in explicable ways, the end result is more puzzling than insightful.

Presented by Neighborhood Productions at Access Theater, 380 Broadway, NYC. Dec. 2–19. Wed.–Sun., 8 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, or

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