Israeli comedy troupe Tziporela‘s English-language show Odd Birdz brings a comic sensibility to New York that’s both universal and foreign. The sketch-comedy show combines a hint of vaudeville and a touch of the Marx Brothers with moments of zany Laugh-In-era humor and a dose of performance-art archness.
The hits outnumber the misses. The troupe plays with its multilingualism in an amusing sketch in which a pair of translators switch places with the Hebrew-speaking couple whose marital fight they’re interpreting. Expectations are upended in a brief skit where a couple on a first date (and their waiter) say exactly what they’re thinking at every moment. In what may be the most daring and outrageous piece, the results when two mourning women both show up at the same gravesite are almost wordless and at the same time loud, violent, and hilarious.
There’s a good deal of physical comedy, including an impressively athletic and graceful pas de deux, a goofily funny strip-tease number, a sweet love story conveyed with paintings on shirts, and one of my favorites, in two words: foot puppets.
There’s music, including a solo piece in which a lovelorn woman conveys her emotional journey entirely through snatches of popular song, and a recurring bit about a bickering musical duo trying with limited success to put new spins on golden oldies.
And there’s a magnificently funny sketch that suggest what Sex and the City might have been like if its four friends had snorted buckets of cocaine and become serially monosyllabic.
I couldn’t make much of the bits with the married couple who engaged with the audience. Some audience members who seemed familiar with Israeli references or something else I didn’t get laughed at it while most didn’t. And if Eurovision had a comedy division, Tziporela’s sketch about an American visitor stymied at an Israeli passport desk by two over-the-top drama queens might go far, but to this American viewer, it was intermittently funny but felt a little forced. You can strike gold when you strike a perfect balance between current events and the absurd, but this sketch just didn’t quite strike my American-humor balance.
Collectively the eight members of the troupe seem utterly charming, greeting audience members on arrival and performing songs snatches for them on the street afterwards. I think you’d be hard-pressed not to fall for Tziporela. In a time when the political situation is giving Israel a bad name, they are inventive, laugh-out-loud-funny ambassadors of love, showing us the funnybone of a nation we tend to think of hardened by war and intractable cultural strife.