In Modern Orthodox, Daniel Goldfarb hilariously contrasted two extremes of modern Judaism. In Adam Baum And The Jew Movie, he writes an equally laugh-filled comedy about the legendary Jewish studio heads who created decades of Jew-free movies in Hollywood.

The year is 1946 and film mogul Samuel Baum (Richard Kind) is on the phone in his office.  With 20th Century Fox’s Gentleman’s Agreement already in the works, time is of the essence.  “We’ve got to get ours out first,” Sam bellows into the phone.  “Americans can only handle one Jew movie per year!”
Adam Baum And The Jew Movie centers around the race to get Sam’s “Jew movie,” Soil In Utopia, underway (though they’ll have to do something about that title!).  Sam is already on his third screenwriter, Garfield Hampson, Jr. (Hamish Linklater), but this time it seems like he’s got a winner.  Gar is, after all, “the best goyishe writer in Hollywood.”  What, you ask?  A gentile writing a Jew movie?  Who better? As one of the most powerful Jews in Hollywood (along with Harry Cohn, Louis B. Mayer, and Jack Warner), Sam knows full well that “you can’t have a Jew write a Jew movie!”
When Gar arrives for a script conference, Sam offers him a bite to eat, then kvetches when Gar goes straight for the cashews, the most expensive, and when Gar accepts Sam’s offer of a glass of scotch, Sam reluctantly sends his secretary the five block to pick up a bottle.  Clearly, playwright Goldfarb relishes poking fun at stereotypes.
Gar seems to know more about Judaism than Sam does, about mitzvah and sedaka and …  “All these thoughts, all these ideas,” exclaims Sam.  “They must give you a headache!”
Sam and Gar’s conference is interrupted by a phone call from Sam’s 13-year-old son, saddled with the unfortunately homophonic moniker of Adam Baum.  It seems the kids at school have been making fun of Adam’s name again.  “He’s such a sensitive boy,” explains Sam to Gar. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly, much less bomb Japan.”
With lines like these, it’s no wonder Adam Baum And The Jew Movie proves to be one of the funniest shows in town, which is precisely what one would expect from the writer of the equally hilarious Modern Orthodox.

Back to Sam, who expresses disappointment in Gar’s script. Besides the unfortunate title (“How about Red, White, and Jew?” suggests Gar sarcastically), there’s also Sam’s concern that Gar has written the movie as a Jew would and not as a Gentile.  Heaven forbid that the U.S. Vice President should be portrayed as an anti-Semite, or that the film’s Jewish family should be “too Jewish,” or that the Jews in Gar’s script should be “too soft.”  Even less acceptable is Gar’s suggestion that the lead role go to Sam Levene. “Sam Levene is too Jewish,” insists Sam. “How about Cary Grant?”  (In Sam’s movies, Jews are only allowed to play Indians.)
Spark fly and fly and fly, and Sam is sweating so hard that he keeps changing shirts.  (He has a stack of them on hand, made of the softest Egyptian cotton.  “Egyptians I don’t care for,” explains Sam, “but I love their cotton.”)
A few days later, Gar is invited to Adam’s Bar Mitzvah and we meet Sam’s just turned 13 son (Gregory Mikurak), aka “The Hallelujah Kid.” (When Adam was born, Sam sang “Hallelujah” to the telephone operator.) Never has a boy been more loved by his dad than Adam is.  “You’re my little Mickey Rooney,” Sam exclaims while covering the boy’s cheeks with kisses.  (This is the 1940s, when fathers could get away with showing affection towards their offspring without fear of legal action.) 
When Gar wonders why Sam is throwing his son a Bar Mitzvah (after all, he doesn’t keep a Kosher kitchen or fast on Yom Kippur), playwright Goldfarb’s gutsy script turns serious (though the laughs are never far away).  As the head of a major Hollywood studio, Sam is an immigrant Jew who epitomizes the American dream and propagates this dream in his movies. And yet, as Gar puts it, “You’ve created the American ideal, and it fucking excludes you!”
What is it exactly that makes a Jew a Jew? Is it, as Gar maintains, a respect for and adherence to Jewish traditions?  Or is it something as simple as a having a circumcised body part? After all, that’s all it took for Sam’s family members who remained in Europe to have been sent to the death camps.
Rare is it that a play can be as funny and yet as deadly serious as Adam Baum And The Jew Movie is, especially when directed by Paul Mazursky. Mazursky is, of course, the writer/director of such hit movies as Bob And Carol And Ted And Alice, Down And Out In Beverly Hills, and countless more.  Here, the master of film comedy proves himself equally adept at live theater, guiding his cast of three to comic perfection.
Kind gives a tornado of a performance as Sam, the quintessential movie mogul, made of equal parts of bombast, chutzpah, and tenderness, and his final scene with son Adam is heartbreaking. Hamish Linklater (a Jimmy Stewart for the new millennium) is that dream of an actor who makes it big in Hollywood (he currently stars in TV’s The New Adventures Of Old Christine) yet never abandons his stage roots. It’s a pleasure just to watch Linklater listen (and react) to Kind’s zingers, and when the two of them spar, the stage truly ignites. Newcomer Mizurak gives a performance of such endearing sweetness that it seems of another era, and perfect for this play.
Joel Daavid’s Act 1 set, a gorgeously detailed Art Deco office, and his Act 2 Hollywood den are further examples of this award-winning designer’s gifts, enhanced by his gorgeous lighting design. Traci McWain’s costumes and Christopher Game’s sound design are also first-rate.
As a look back at Hollywood of the Golden age, an examination of what it means to be Jewish, and a just plain laugh out loud comedy gem, Adam Baum And The Jew Movie is an all around winner.

NOTE (August 1, 2008)  The production now stars Kip Gilman, Nicholas Brendon and Riley Ceder.

The Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
June 8, 2008

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