STORY WRITTEN BY LINDA STEIN
Growing up in Wynnewood, Matthew Silva knew plenty of Jews. And that’s a good thing, because Silva, 29, is the director of “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” playing at the Penn’s Landing Playhouse through Nov. 30.
During weeks of rehearsals — which included breaks for the High Holy Days — and previews of the show, Silva said, “My mannerisms became more Jewish.” He’s even taken to calling the all-Jewish cast members, “Bubeleh.”
The show, created by Peter Gethers and Daniel Orkent, had its genesis in a funny website of the same name. But it’s more than standup comedy, said Silva, a Barrymore-award nominated freelance director who also heads the drama program at the Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School and is assistant director in the theater program at St. Joseph Prep, his alma mater.
“Old Jews Telling Jokes” engenders the timing, rhythm and storytelling of the Yiddish theater, said Silva.
“It’s relentless humor that keeps coming at you,” he said. Each of the five characters, three older Jews and two younger Jews, tell stories in a monologue and the jokes feature more than 250 characters from rabbis to husbands and wives. The characters come from various phases of life from childhood, courtship, marriage, work, old age, death and the after-life. There’s even a talking dog.
“There’s no inappropriate moments for humor,” he said. “Often times we take everything too seriously.”
Directing comedy is more difficult than drama, said Silva.
“Comedy is the hardest thing to direct and getting laughter is one the hardest things to do,” he said. Pacing is essential. “Because it’s jokes, it’s important to keep the actors moving so people think they’re seeing a show. It moves from joke to joke.”
Like many directors, Silva began as an actor and performed in shows at the Waldron Mercy Academy and St. Joseph’s Prep, before majoring in theater at the University of Scranton where he earned his undergraduate degree in theater.
“I realized I was better at directing than acting,” he said. “Directing is like problem solving.”
Silva earned a master’s in theater at Villanova then a second master’s in directing from Florida State University. His Barrymore nomination was for best director of a musical for his 14-person adaptation of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
So what’s a nice Catholic guy doing producing a Jewish show? Silva said the producers, Philip Roger Roy and Dana Matthow, approached him after hearing about him through word of mouth.
His parents, Joan and Ed Silva, who still live in Wynnewood, have been very supportive of his theatrical dreams, said Silva, who also has an older sister, Trish Straehle, living in Cherry Hill.
And the show doesn’t have the tagline “You’ll laugh ‘til you plotz” for nothing. Recently, Silva sat in the audience of the show with a couple of his friends. Even after hearing the jokes numerous times, “It was just amazing. I laughed with everyone,” said Silva.
“Old Jews Telling Jokes” played off-Broadway in New York and will continue to tour other cities after its stint in Philadelphia, said Silva. For show times and to purchase tickets to: www.plplayhouse.com or (855) HIT-SHOW.