David Ives’ cautionary comedy about embracing who you are (or suffer the consequences) is getting a crackerjack outing at the Central Sq. Theater. I can’t imagine a better production than the Titanic Theatre Company’s. THE POLISH JOKE (playing through this weekend only) is filled to the brim with Ives’ famous sardonic wit, like banishing the perennially happy to “an asylum for the criminally content.” Problem is when he gets serious about ethnic backgrounds (Polish in this case), the play flags a bit—because we’ve become accustomed to a laugh a minute and the switch halts the momentum. (To his credit, Ives gets quickly back on track.)
Director Sarah Gazdowicz has an extraordinary cast who can perform outlandish scenarios at breakneck speed. Gazdowicz’s talented actors deftly manage playing in the round (except it’s a rectangle) —not an easy task when you have to ensure that all sides of the audience can clearly see and hear. Titanic is fortunate to have actors with good instincts and exquisite comic timing. One of my favorite funny men, Matthew Zahnzinger, gets to show how it’s done in several hilarious turns: Just when I thought he’d reached his zenith as a salty old priest, he re-entered as a briny-brogued, step dancing dervish. (I’m still raving about his maniacal gigue.)
William Bowry, too, makes comedic hay of a whole passel of wonderfully deranged characters, as does Janelle Mills and Becca A. Lewis. Dan Prior has the toughest row to hoe as the man at the center of the play who denies his heritage (until a motorbus engineers an epiphany). He has to be believable both as a child and as the hapless everyman who doesn’t see the forest for the trees. We have to root for him even when he’s being blissfully, exasperatingly naïve. He is and we do. And we laugh…a lot.