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Polish Joke - A Play within a Polka
- Backstage with the Playwrights and Filmmakers

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(Beer Barrel Polka Lyrics) (Beer Barrel Polka Tune)

Manhattan Theatre Club
City Center Stage II
West 55th Street, Btw. 6th and 7th Ave's.

Artistic Director, Lynne Meadow
Executive Producer, Barry Grove
Written by David Ives
Directed by John Rando
Set Design, Loy Arcenas
Costume Design, David C. Woolard
Lighting Design, Donald Holder
Sound Design, Bruce Ellman
Dialect Coach, Claudia Hill-Sparks
Wig Design, Tom Watson
Production Stage Manager, Heather Cousens
Press Representative, Boneau/Bryan-Brown

Cast: Nancy Bell, Walter Bobbie, Malcolm Gets, Nancy Opel, and Richard Ziman

In Performances Through April 20, 2003

By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 30, 2003
Originally Published on

Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC) has been in existence and thriving in the NY theatrical scene for three decades. The Artistic Director, Lynne Meadow, and Executive Producer, Barry Grove, are committed to bringing theatre to a wide audience. In fact, they have been instrumental in moving successful plays to Broadway or Off-Broadway venues for extended runs. Sometimes they initiate a large production elsewhere, and sometimes they collaborate with regional theatres for the presentation of new American plays. They also have an education program for student and family audiences. The CORE Program presents a matinee performance to students, after intensive classroom experience. The Family Matinee brings students and families to a matinee, after a morning workshop. In Write on the Edge, at-risk students can develop their own scripts, based on a performance at MTC. TheatreLink is an Internet program to connect students on a national basis in a playwriting/production project. MTC had its first City Center performance in 1984. Soon MTC will open a second space in the historic Biltmore Theatre on West 47th Street for The Next Stage, in order to produce new work for the American stage, both on and off Broadway. (MTC/City Center Notes)

With the traditional Polish, accordion rendition of Beer Barrel Polka, playing at various points in this hilarious production, called Polish Joke, the entire cast, in amazingly perfect dialect and quickly changing roles, presents a series of surrealistic, campy vignettes, within the broader play, with the theme of Polish national pride and self-deprecating humor. Malcolm Gets, who has appeared in Amour and Mostly Sondheim, is endearing and riotous as Jasiu, born Jan Bogdan Sadlowski, in a Midwestern, Polish neighborhood. Because his uncle Roman, Richard Ziman (Has appeared in Lost in Yonkers and The Sopranos) tells him that to survive he must take on another nationality, like Irish, Jasiu travels the globe, as he grows into John Sadler and then John Flanagan.

No nationality is spared, and there is a hysterical scene in which Jasiu is introduced to a New York Jewish family, and his girlfriend's (Nancy Bell) aunt (Nancy Opel) thinks he's Jewish. There is a Human Resources interview scene, in which Nancy Bell, as the interviewer, seductively forces Gets to sing Danny Boy in Polish, to prove he's Polish. He sings it well. Walter Bobbie (Guys and Dolls, Hill Street Blues), who is also an acclaimed Director of MTC and Roundabout, is absolutely outstanding as the psychoanalytic priest, the doctor, and Mr. O'Flanagan in his Irish travel office, where he dances a jig, vaudeville style. Nancy Bell, as a fainting woman in black, like a sexy ghost, and as Rachel, the Jewish girlfriend, is always perfectly in character.

Nancy Opel, as Mrs. Flanagan, in the travel office, and as the nurse, in the doctor's office, is infectiously adorable and funny to the core. Richard Ziman as Uncle Roman in the patio, with painted rubber tires housing flower gardens, and sitting on a cheap lounge chair, slurping beer with eggs and salt, "Polish style", waxes metaphysical, philosophical, educational, psychological, and even sexual, about all matters regarding the state of being Polish. As Ladislaw, as a Sanitation Worker, and as the great Thaddeus Kosciusko, Ziman is always on the mark, with masculine pride mixed with underlying insecurity.

You can still order tickets through CityTix at 212.581.1212 for this unbelievably funny show. These are times when we need guaranteed laughter and the Beer Barrel Polka.

My guest, Ele Franklin, is quoted as saying, "Polish Joke is the absolutely most delightful, campy, entertaining, and clever performance I've seen in years."

Malcolm Gets and Nancy Bell in Polish Joke
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

Nancy Opel in Polish Joke
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

Walter Bobbie in Polish Joke
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

Malcolm Gets and Richard Ziman in Polish Joke
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at