Theatre Review by Howard Miller - June 26, 2023
Just for Us by Alex Edelman. Directed by Adam Brace. Scenic design by David Korins. Lighting design by Mike Baldassari. Sound design by Palmer Hefferan. Creative consultant Alex Timbers.
In the show, Edelman drops names like that of the late Robin Williams and of Mike Birbiglia, who was the lead producer of two previous Off-Broadway productions of Just for Us and remains on board as one of the producers of the Broadway run. Edelman also colors his stories with details about neighborhoods, and even the specific address of the central event on which the buy-in by the audience is essential. It is a tale that gets us to sit up and take notice largely because we are in the midst of a serious rise in antisemitism in this country. SPOILER ALERT: In it, Edelman, for whom his Jewish identity provides the basis for pretty much the entirety of Just for Us, describes in great detail an evening he spent among a group of white supremacists, both out of curiosity and out of a heightened, if misguided, expectation that he would be able to use his charm and logic to build empathy within the room.
For the sake of full disclosure, I will say that I did feel like one of the "us" throughout the evening. Having lived in places where my own Jewishness was an outlier, I know what it is to be surrounded if not by blatant white supremacists, then by those whose casual remarks represented views that were at least antisemitic-adjacent, and where the flying of confederate flags suggested that I'd best think before I spoke. I also related to his stories about the time his family celebrated Christmas, and about the difficulty in explaining to others that being Jewish and participating in the Jewish religion are not necessarily synonymous.
As a comic performer, there is no doubt that Edelman is very engaging. He also provides a unique perspective, a far cry from Jewish comedians of the Borscht Belt variety. I suspect that he excels in small venues, but few comics can successfully make the shift to a Broadway house. If Mike Birbiglia is a mentor, Edelman would do well to model his performance after him. Birbiglia knows how to combine comedy and theatrical performances; his last Broadway outing, The Old Man and the Pool, was brilliant. But as entertaining as Edelman can be, especially with the right "us" in the audience, he hasn't yet figured out how to make that transition.